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Insincere Commitments

Human Rights Treaties, Abusive States, and Citizen Activism

Heather Smith-Cannoy

Publication Year: 2012

Paradoxically, many governments that persistently violate human rights have also ratified international human rights treaties that empower their citizens to file grievances against them at the United Nations. Therefore, citizens in rights-repressing regimes find themselves with the potentially invaluable opportunity to challenge their government's abuses. Why would rights-violating governments ratify these treaties and thus afford their citizens this right? Can the mechanisms provided in these treaties actually help promote positive changes in human rights? Insincere Commitments uses both quantitative and qualitative analysis to examine the factors contributing to commitment and compliance among post-Soviet states such as Slovakia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Heather Smith-Cannoy argues that governments ratify these treaties insincerely in response to domestic economic pressures. Signing the treaties is a way to at least temporarily keep critics of their human rights record at bay while they secure international economic assistance or more favorable trade terms. However, she finds that through the specific protocols in the treaties that grant individuals the right to petition the UN, even the most insincere state commitments to human rights can give previously powerless individuals -- and the nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations that partner with them -- an important opportunity that they would otherwise not have to challenge patterns of government repression on the global stage. This insightful book will be of interest to human rights scholars, students, and practitioners, as well as anyone interested in the UN, international relations, treaties, and governance.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

My interest in human rights and global mechanisms of justice developed early in response to conversations with my grandfather. He told me of his experiences as a young man escaping Nazi Germany and showed me pictures of our family members who were not as lucky...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-16

In the wake of World War II, the international community has made great progress toward promoting democracy, the rule of law, and a common set of human rights protections for the world’s population. Today, more than 48 percent of states in the international...

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1. A New Approach to Commitment and Compliance

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pp. 17-40

Traditionally in international relations, we conceive of the state as the final locus of authority. Citizens take their complaints of abuse to domestic courts; whatever remedy they may receive accrues to them through domestic legal channels. Prior to the introduction...

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2. Patterns of Commitment

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pp. 41-63

Which countries grant their citizens the right to file complaints before the UN treaty bodies? Which countries merely ratify human rights treaties to avoid UN intrusion into their domestic affairs? In chapter 1 we considered theories explaining commitment and compliance...

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3. Causes of Commitment

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pp. 64-91

In some instances governments ratify treaties sincerely, in the hopes that domestic policy will follow their global commitment. In other instances they may feel pressured to demonstrate a commitment to policies similar to those of regional peers. In still other circumstances...

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4. Individual Petitions in Eastern Europe: Racial Discrimination in Slovakia

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pp. 92-115

During the 1990s, Eastern Europe was what Central Asia is today—a new front in the battle between citizens and their governments over the protection of human rights. Why did the Slovaks choose to offer minorities the opportunity to voice patterns of domestic...

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5. Hungary and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

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pp. 116-138

Insincere commitments to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have the capacity to improve domestic rights protections. This chapter explores why the Hungarians ratified the Optional Protocol...

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6. The UN Human Rights Committee in Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

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pp. 139-165

The governments of Central Asia have not been known for their steadfast commitment to their citizens’ human rights in recent years. In May 2005, President Karimov in Uzbekistan suppressed an uprising in the Ferghana Valley. Official state reports...

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7. The Causes and Consequences of Commitment Reconsidered

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pp. 166-177

Why do new governments commit to individual petition mechanisms in human rights treaties? What are the effects of allowing citizens in newly independent states to file grievances before UN bodies? The traditional approaches to commitment, which stress de facto compliance...


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pp. 179-182


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pp. 183-198


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9781589018969
E-ISBN-10: 1589018966
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589018877
Print-ISBN-10: 1589018877

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 18 figures, 16 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 793996921
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Insincere Commitments

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Human rights -- International cooperation.
  • Human rights -- Government policy.
  • Human rights monitoring.
  • United Nations. Human Rights Committee.
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