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Do International Human Rights Treaties Matter? Part 2: Enforcement

So now let’s look at the enforcement of Human rights treaties.

With any other treaty or trade deal, states have to comply with terms of the agreement or expect retaliation, from either the other parties in the treaty or economically in the form of sanctions. However this is not the case with Human rights treaties as there are no really concerning consequences for not respecting the terms of these treaties, no economic sanctions or retaliation from other countries involved in the treaties.

It is because of this lack of direct material interdependence that we can’t force other countries to comply with the terms of Human Rights treaties. Therefore if countries do not respect their agreements due to a lack of material consequence, is there any point in having the treaty in the first place, do Human Rights treaties really matter at all?

Andrew Moravcsik, professor of Political Science at Princeton University said that “Unlike international institutions governing trade, monetary, environmental or security policy… (human rights treaties) not designed to regulate cross border policy but to hold governments accountable for purely internal activities”. It is due to the internal nature of human rights that make them hard to enforce. However it is pessimistic to suggest that governments themselves are solely responsible to be the enforcers of their human rights treaties.

 There can be some international enforcement such as economic sanctions but this is fairly limited. For example, both the EU and US have economically sanctioned countries with poor human rights records, such as China.

Also the United Nations Security Council can mandate enforcement of Human rights, but this is only if they deem it to be a threat to international peace. This can be seen in the action taken against South Africa during its Apartheid era and more recently, the sanction of the use of force against Libya by NATO due to poor human rights issues being a threat to international peace.

In terms of  further economic sanctions, as the majority of human rights abuses happen in less economically developed countries, the World Bank reduce aid to these countries as a means to force them to improve their practices

Overall, there is minimal enforcement of human rights treaties, which certainly limits its effectiveness. This allows countries with poor human rights records to sign the treaties as a distraction, to give themselves a break from the scrutiny of the international community  to find a solution or continue their practices, without consequence. Therefore the signing of human rights treaties is largely superficial, suggesting they really don’t matter in a global political context.