Poll Shows Americans Support International Courts

by Peggy McGuinness

A recent poll published by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland shows strong support for international adjudication of U.S. compliance with its treaty obligations. Among the other findings are strong support for changing the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo to conform with requests by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, support for the ICC and for US participation in the ICC, and strong support for treaties prohibiting torture — including the right of an international body to determine when the US is in non-compliance with its obligations. The full summary is here. Here are some highlights:

Two in three Americans say the United States should change the way it treats detainees at Guantanamo Bay as prescribed by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Americans generally support giving international courts broad authority to judge compliance with treaties and seven in ten reject the idea that the United States should receive exceptional treatment under such treaties. Respondents were told that the UN Commission on Human Rights has determined that the United States has violated international conventions at Guantanamo Bay by holding certain individuals for interrogation without charging them with a crime. Sixty-three percent said the United States should follow the Commission’s prescriptions and change this practice, while 30% said the United States should not.

A very large majority generally favors the idea of international adjudication of compliance with treaties. Seventy-six percent said that, “As a general rule, when the US enters into international agreements,” there should be “an independent international body, such as a court, to judge whether the parties are complying with the agreement.” The statement had bipartisan support: 66% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats.

Americans show little support for the idea that the United States should have a special exemption from the judgment of international bodies. For example, only 25% agreed that as a general rule US compliance with human rights treaties should never be “subject to the judgment of an international body,” while 69% thought the US should not claim a “special exception.” This included 63% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats.

The highest profile controversy over international adjudication in recent years has been about the United States’ refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court. Seventy-four percent favored US participation in the ICC. When respondents were asked a longer version of the question, which included the US government’s argument that “trumped-up charges may be brought against Americans, for example US soldiers who use force in the course of a peacekeeping operation.” support was only a bit lower at 68%. Support dropped further among Republican respondents. While 77% of Republicans approved in the simple version of the question, 52% were opposed in response to the question that highlighted US government objections.

At the same time, Americans show concern about the costs and risks of international adjudication. When presented pro and con arguments, majorities did find convincing the argument that “judges from other countries cannot be trusted to be impartial”… “because there are so many people in the world who are looking for opportunities to try to undermine the US” (65%) and that “submitting to international courts would violate the United States’ sovereign right to protect its citizens and its interests” (58%). However, the arguments in favor of international adjudication were found convincing by larger majorities (69-85%). When finally asked to weigh both pro and con arguments together, 71% came down in favor of international adjudication.

Interestingly, the poll demonstrates that in the human rights area, where the U.S. has historically been reluctant to accede to surpanational review, the public shows the strongest support for international adjudication (see chart at left). In trade relations, the area where the U.S. is obligated to supranational institutions with binding adjudication processes (NAFTA, WTO), popular support is much lower.

This latest poll is part of the ongoing opinion research being conducted by PIPA’s new entity, WorldPublicOpinion.org. Well worth checking out for their other polling on international law and foreign affairs.

Hat tip, Cesare Romano.


Comments are closed.