Testing Conventional Wisdom

16 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2003 Last revised: 11 May 2008

Oona A. Hathaway

Yale University - Law School


In a recent article, Do Human Rights Treaties Make a Difference?, 111 Yale Law Journal 1935 (2002), I presented evidence and arguments that called into doubt two widely shared assumptions: (1) that countries generally comply with their human rights treaty commitments, and (2) that countries' practices will be better if they have ratified treaties than they otherwise would be. In response, Professors Ryan Goodman and Derek Jinks have argued that we must stick with conventional assumptions until we know the real effects of human rights treaties. In this reply, I clarify my argument, which Goodman and Jinks misportray, and respond to the central themes of Goodman and Jinks' critique. First, I argue that Goodman and Jinks' skepticism toward my empirical results is misplaced and that their claims are unsubstantiated. Their argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would counsel against any empirical analysis of the effectiveness of human rights treaties. Second, I defend my theoretical account, which argues for looking beyond existing models in analyzing state behavior. Third, I contest Goodman and Jinks' claim that it promotes human rights to continue to rely uncritically upon conventional assumptions. I argue that the international legal community should instead seek to understand better the relationship between treaties and state behavior and then carefully consider how to make treaties more effective.

Keywords: treaties, international law, human rights, empirical analysis

JEL Classification: K33, N40, O19

Suggested Citation

Hathaway, Oona A., Testing Conventional Wisdom. European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2003; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 48; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 274. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=394842 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.394842

Oona A. Hathaway (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4992 (Phone)
203-432-1107 (Fax)

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