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Disaggregating the Human Rights Treaty Regime

22 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2016 Last revised: 13 Feb 2017

Kevin L. Cope

University of Virginia School of Law

Cosette D Creamer

Boston University School of Law; Harvard University - Department of Government

Date Written: April 20, 2016


In their essay, "The Influence of History on States’ Compliance with Human Rights Obligations," Adam Chilton and Eric Posner conclude that modern human rights practices are partially a function of phenomena from distant history: colonization patterns, geography, and old institutions. They contrast the predictive power of these factors with that of participation in the modern international human rights legal regime. They conclude that ratified human rights instruments in the aggregate have had little effect on governments’ rights practices, and that researchers should turn to factors other than treaties for robust explanations (if not solutions) for the wide variation in human rights practices across states. In this essay, we disaggregate several aspects of the human rights regime that much of the existing scholarship — including The Influence of History — has largely aggregated. In doing so, we show that aggregation obscures nuances of treaty engagement and effects that might meaningfully implicate the normative role of the human rights regime. We argue that the “treatment” of a human rights regime is not synonymous with the point of ratification. As others have noted, ratification commonly works through international and domestic processes and institutions and operates over a long time-horizon, extending well before and after the moment of legal obligation. We conclude that to understand the process by which treaty engagement might influence rights conditions, scholars should build on those studies that recognize and take advantage of this insight.

Keywords: treaties, human rights, international law

Suggested Citation

Cope, Kevin L. and Creamer, Cosette D, Disaggregating the Human Rights Treaty Regime (April 20, 2016). Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 56, No. 2, 2016; Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 16-23; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2016-39. Available at SSRN:

Kevin L. Cope (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States


Cosette D Creamer

Boston University School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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