Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Should States Ratify Human Rights Conventions?

Abstract

International conventions now protect a wide range of human rights: civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and the rights of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and the disabled. International organs - courts and supervisory bodies - help ensure that states comply with their conmitments. Many see this as major positive developments. At the same time, states worry that their freedom is restricted in areas traditionally part of the national domain. And the international organs have interpretated the conventions in ways that expand the international obligations. These developments raise both descriptive and normative challenges, especially concerning the democratic legitimacy of human rights courts and supervisory bodies.

The research group brings together legal scholars, social scientists, and political philosophers to address three central puzzles in the field of human rights conventions:

  • the motivations of states when they enter into the conventions,
  • the effects of these conventions on states, and, in light of these findings,
  • whether such conventions are normatively legitimate.

Focus is on four conventions with different geographical reach and whose monitoring or adjudication bodies enjoy different powers:

  • The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • the ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries

To understand and assess the impact of human rights conventions is of the highest practical political importance, and also of great theoretical interest. How human rights norms affect the objectives, perceptions and choices of states and other actors also sheds light on more general issues of global governance: What are the roles and potential of ‘principled ideas’ - such as human rights ideals - and law at the level of international governance? How is sovereignty reconceived in response to, and as part of, processes of ‘legalization’ and globalisation?

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