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date: 20 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

The adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 marked the beginning of the modern international human rights regime. Since then the number of international treaties that protect human rights, as well as the number of internationally recognized rights, has greatly increased. The increasing number and scope of international treaties attests to the fact that advocates for human rights view treaties, which are legally binding in principle, as useful tools for promoting respect for the various rights identified in international law. Only recently have scholars begun to collect and systematically examine evidence concerning the effectiveness of human rights treaties. This new body of research is motivated by a question that has obvious normative import and policy relevance: do we have good evidence that the widespread adoption of international human rights law has had any meaningful impact on the level of respect that states exhibit for the rights articulated in international law? To date, this literature suggests three sources of variation in the effectiveness of human rights treaties: (1) variation in the domestic political and legal institutions that facilitate enforcement and compliance, (2) variation in the nature of the rights protected by different treaties and the nature of violations, and (3) variation in the strength of governments’ commitments to the UN treaty regime. All three sources of variation point to opportunities to advance our understanding of the conditions under which international human rights law can achieve its goals.

Keywords: human rights, international law, treaties, international organizations, compliance, empirical international relations theory

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