A Signaling Theory of Human Rights Compliance

32 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2006

See all articles by David H. Moore

David H. Moore

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School


This piece addresses the question why nations comply with international human rights principles by developing a theory of compliance as a type of informational signaling. The theory posits that nations wish to determine, but cannot always directly discern, whether other nations will tend to cooperate in international endeavors. Conformance to international human rights principles is costly and can communicate that a nation is willing to restrain the exercise of its power or forego immediate gains to secure long-term benefits. Expressed in other terms, compliance communicates that a nation has a low discount rate. Nations interested in long-term cooperative endeavors wish to identify low-discount states. Even in the absence of compelling domestic or foreign pressures, then, low-discount states have an incentive to engage in human rights compliance to signal their type.

As this piece demonstrates, understanding the dynamics of signaling increases understanding of which nations, and when nations, are most likely to respect human rights. An understanding of the signaling dynamic affecting compliance also suggests ways in which respect for human rights might be improved.

Keywords: human rights, compliance, international law, law and economics

Suggested Citation

Moore, David H., A Signaling Theory of Human Rights Compliance. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 97, p. 879, 2003 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=932066

David H. Moore (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

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Brigham Young University
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