Human Rights: Myth and Consequences?

Wade sent me and Ann some of his recent work on human rights.  He’s got some great papers, including one coming out in the AJS.  More congrats to Wade!  He’s really on a roll!

Anyhow, the papers take on a really important issue:  the conditions under which global institutions actually have meaningful consequences, versus being loosely coupled.  It is a really important direction for world society research.  (Ann and I have a paper in Social Forces that looks at environmental outcomes… and are thinking about doing more research along these lines.)

The AJS paper is entitled “Human Rights as Myth and Ceremony?  Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Human Rights Treaties.”  The paper addresses recent work, including a widely cited AJS paper by Emilie Hafner-Burton and Kiyo Tsutsui, showing that treaty signing is negatively associated with subsequent practices.  The literature concludes that treaties are “just talk”, or that treaties only matter in highly specific contexts.

Wade’s paper improves on the literature in two ways:  1) He delves much more into the substance of the treaties, looking at specific amendments and optional provisions that nations might sign — which might affect specific kinds of human rights outcomes; and 2) He addresses the possibility that treaty signing itself may be endogenous, via an instrumental variables model.

The AJS paper shows that nations making stronger treaty commitments tend to improve on various measures of human rights.  So, HR treaties do matter after all, it seems…  Go world polity!

The second paper, “Decoupling Reconsidered: Accounting for the Implementation Gap in Human Rights Treaties” looks at the state-level factors associated with loose coupling.  The paper is really terrific and deserves a close read.  But, in a nutshell, stable regimes are more likely to successfully implement treaties.  This fits really well with Ann’s prior work on weak states…  which often commit huge atrocities in the context of extreme disorder or civil conflict.  In other words, loose coupling probably isn’t “strategic” window dressing, but rather reflects the very limited state capacities of many countries.

Wade is looking for feedback as he revises the paper, so check it out:  Wade Cole Decoupling Reconsidered.pdf  Actually, knowing him, you’d better hurry with comments… I’m sure it will be in print soon!  🙂

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