Legislative Veto Players and the Effects of International Human Rights Agreements

The forthcoming article “Legislative Veto Players and the Effects of International Human Rights Agreements” by Yonatan Lupu, is summarized here

Most countries join human rights treaties, and most governments violate human rights.  These observations lead to considerable and understandable skepticism as to whether these treaties have an effect on human rights practices.  International mechanisms often used to make other agreements effective, such as reciprocity and peer enforcement, do not seem to be effective in the human rights context.  This skepticism has led scholars to recently declare the endtimes and twilight of human rights.  Others are more optimistic, but this optimism is tempered.  Those who argue that human rights treaties have power tend to focus on domestic mechanisms, such as independent judiciaries and the mobilization of civil society.

This article examines whether and how opposition groups in domestic legislatures can make international human rights treaties effective.  Why legislatures?  Legislative veto players can prevent changes to the legal status quo and have been shown to affect government repressive tactics.  Can they make treaties more effective?  My argument begins with the following observation: leaders can violate human rights via formalistic means such as passing laws, but they can also do extralegally by side-stepping the legal process and repressing individual rights de facto.  In order for opposition groups in the legislature to make human rights treaties more effective, they should be able to increase the costs of both types of violations in countries that have joined these treaties.  I explain how legislative veto players in treaty member-states use their formal powers and the information politics activated by treaty ratification in order to do so.

Using an empirical strategy I developed in an earlier paper, I estimate the effects of ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and estimate whether these effects increase in states with more legislative veto players.  I focus on five dependent variables: freedom of speech, religious freedom, torture, political imprisonment, and disappearances.  I find that with respect to all of these practices, the extent to which treaty ratification reduces violations increases and becomes significant and positive when there are more legislative veto players

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.