Why Incorporate? The Domestic Politics of Human Rights Commitment in Scandinavia

35 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2022

See all articles by Johan Karlsson Schaffer

Johan Karlsson Schaffer

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies; University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 26, 2022


Why do consolidated rule-of-law democracies incorporate international human rights law (IHRL) instruments into national law? Existing research suggests that fragile democracies or transitional states commit to IHRL treaties because they can reap benefits of binding themselves to liberal international norms.

However, the participation of stable democracies in IHRL regimes seems more puzzling. Leading liberal democracies sometimes conspicuously fail to commit to treaties whose values mirror their domestic regimes, perhaps because the indirect benefits they can reap do not outweigh the sovereignty costs they incur by accepting review by supranational human rights bodies.

To help theorize why established democracies commit to IHRL, this paper provides a comparative process tracing of the decisions to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into national law in Denmark and Sweden in the early 1990s. The findings suggest that the governments' decisions to incorporate was shaped by the incentives facing political parties and their desire for political insurance for the future: In Denmark, the Social Democratic party launched incorporation as part of a strategy of enforcing its policies on a weak centre-right government. In Sweden, by contrast, the Conservative party mobilised for incorporation of the ECHR as part of its challenge to Social Democratic hegemony. The argument qualifies claims about material incentives or acculturation to European norms as the primary drivers of incorporation. The findings also help providing a better understanding of how international human rights norms have continued to be differently politicized in Denmark and Sweden.

Keywords: incorporation, Denmark, Sweden, human rights, sovereignty costs, insurance, European Convention on Human Rights, commitment

Suggested Citation

Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, Why Incorporate? The Domestic Politics of Human Rights Commitment in Scandinavia (May 26, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4120430 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4120430

Johan Karlsson Schaffer (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies ( email )

POB 700
Gothenburg, SE 40530

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130

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