Human Rights Language in Constitutions

Colin Beck just sent me a couple of papers.  This one, written with Gili Drori and John Meyer, looks at human rights enshrined in constitutions around the world.

This is a great issue.  Obviously, there is a huge global human rights regime… but one wonders how much of this actually gets institutionalized at the national level.  Well, this paper addresses that question.

Some of the key empirical findings:  1) This is obviously a global process… and therefore countries with strong ties to the human rights regime are much more likely to incorporate human rights into their constitutions in various ways.  2) Older countries and countries that haven’t revised their constitutions since the rise of the human rights regime tend not to address human rights in their constitutions. 3) Democracy tends to have a positive effect, but it loses significance when you include all the global variables.

Some other interesting tidbits:

1) A focus on human rights doesn’t seem to displace or supplant existing ways of thinking about rights in general.  Rather, they are “added on” to constitutions on top of all the other kinds of rights.

2) The paper examines whether “post-conflict” societies have more mentions of human rights.  They don’t get an effect (on average, across all cases).  But, there are some conspicuous examples.  Uganda, Serbia, Bosnia, and El Salvador are all really big into human rights, at least in their constitutions…

3) New Zealand has a 1,200 page constitution.  (The mean is around 60.)  There are 278 mentions of human rights… wow.  Glad I didn’t have to code that one!

Anyhow, take a look at the paper:  Beck, Drori, Meyer Human Rights Constitutions June 2010.pdf

One thing:  I’m now curious to see more descriptive information on the content of human rights in constitutions.  What kinds of global discourses tend to get incorporated?  Which don’t?  And, do the patterns vary across different types of countries (e.g., democracies versus non-democracies)?


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