A Few Little Questions About Enforcement of Int’l Human Rights

by Deborah Pearlstein

Kristen’s last post concludes by opening the giant can of worms at the heart of international human rights law: “Farer’s analogy [between recent U.S. counterterrorism measures and Latin American practices in the 1980’s] shows weaknesses in the [human rights] compliance system generally…. [B]ecause it remains an issue of domestic competence as to whether human rights are enforced in the face of an emergency, international law must find incentives to effect compliance with human rights.”

The topic of incentives for states to comply with international law comes up regularly in conversations here at Princeton with my political science colleagues. In these conversations it seems easy to buy the argument for why, for example, international trade laws and institutions can have an effect on state behavior (to the extent they do). They’re structured around and depend on economic interests – incentives one can count on states to have and to act upon in one particularly reliable direction.

It is perhaps unfair to put Kristen and Tom on this spot on this rather enormous point, so of course all responses welcome. But if one excludes economic incentives from the box of tools one contemplates deploying in support of international human rights enforcement (and we can talk about whether or not this exclusion makes sense) – what incentives do you think would be plausibly effective? Or more to the point, what non-economic state interests do you propose to target in a way that makes international human rights enforcement regimes more effective than they currently are?

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/09/05/a-few-little-questions-about-enforcement-of-intl-human-rights/

2 Responses

  1. A good question. My answer is simple:

    Enforce the law. In particular, 18 USC 2441.

    Wars are about geography — human rights violations are crimes. I didn’t have any problem with invading Afghanistan beyond the way in which is was done. Iraq was a vastly disproportionate overreaction.

    We have had murderers, thieves, and rapists for a very long time. Who would suggest treating those problems as military problems?

    Terrorism is no different, and nothing new.

  2. Hi Deborah,

    This is something which I have been particularly interested in from the perspective of existing enforceability mechanisms for IHL as well as IHRL.

    I wrote a post a while back sampling the problematic of the enforceability of HR instruments: http://nonliquetblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/enforceability-of-civil-and-political.html

    I agree that the one of the main tools in the box are economic sanctions of various kinds but I would argue strongly that even those often come in disguise and work to an extremely limited extent, hiding to a greater extent behind their veil of corruption a lot of political smoozing. A good example of this is the GSP system of the EU as well as in particular (from my region of work) the Association Agreement between Israel and the EU. Art 2 emphasizes the importance of the HR situation and compliance with IL and Art 76 allows for withdrawals and suspensions in such situation where the other provisions are not adhered to by either one of the sides. Nothing has been done in this regard and in fact the relations between the two parties to the Agreement were upgraded recently in June 2008. Enough said.

    In any case I am as intrigued to see the suggestions in this regard and could only hold that whilst most IHL and IHRL conferences and discussion forums continue to pontificate on the development of norms and the content of the law that we presently have (not to be underestimated) there is much to be done with regards to the form in which the law is presented and its useability. This is unquestionably a much more difficult field to work with and think about but it is indisputably the most eminent and imminent.

    Valentina

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