What motivates states to ratify international human rights treaties remains an unanswered question in political science. At the same time, this question has now become relevant more than ever, for at least two main reasons. First, the internalisation and legalisation of the human rights discourse after the Second World War has led to a significant increase in the number of human rights treaties. Second, the number of states, and hence the number of potential signatory parties, has never been higher and the international system as a whole has never been more complex.
Many tentative explanations for the observed variation in states’ ratification patterns have been proposed. Some are based on the treaty characteristics and how they diverge from a country’s practice (Hathaway 2007; Cole 2005), others are tied to the character of the political regime of the state (Moravcsik 2000, Hafner-Burton – Tsutsui – Meyer 2008). Theories emphasizing external factors assume that states adopt human rights instruments in order to boost their international credibility, e.g. by focussing on foreign policy goals and the pressure of the international community (Goodman 2000,Heyns and Viljoen 2001). Transitioning democracies, for example, take on international obligations to “lock in” desired policies in the face of future political uncertainty (Moravcsik 2000) and to prove their allegiance to democratic norms (Simmons, 2000). Integration into the international community can also play a strong role (Heyns and Viljoen 2001) as was the case after the dissolution of the Soviet Union for the Central and Eastern European democracies in their effort to accede to the European Union (Guzman 2008; Landman 2005).
Despite the plethora of theoretical explanations, there is a common denominator to them with the nature of the political regime playing a direct or an indirect role in all of them. Having said that, the supporting empirical evidence remains unsatisfactory. We aim to contribute to this discussion by providing a systematic examination of the typical commitment patterns of political regimes of various types observed in the international arena since the end of WWII. We will use a newly collated dataset of 192 international human rights treaties and all the respective commitment activity since the end of the WWII. We will further supplement this quantitative overview of general commitment trends with additional in-depth insights from a selection of illustrative case studies.
With respect to the commitment patterns of various political regimes, we pose the following research questions: Do political regimes differ in their commitment activity depending on the substance of the treaty (i.e. relating to different areas of human rights protection, different generations of human rights – political rights, social rights, rights of minorities, etc.)? Do certain regimes commit faster to influential human rights declarations than to specific treaties regulating a particular human right and its procedural aspects? Does the commitment behaviour of different political regimes change with the strength of treaty’s control mechanism (and the potential threat of sanctions for noncompliance)?
We will make a comparison across time and geographical space, making it possible to assess whether democratic and non-democratic states have been similar in their commitment patterns or not. We will pay special attention to the category of transitional regimes, comparing the practice of post-communist democracies from early 90s with the practice of other democratizing regimes both in the same time period and in different historical contexts.
Following the international overview of commitment patterns, we will focus on the experience of two post-communist countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the in-depth analysis of their behaviour. The unique political experience of these states contains non-democratic, semi-democratic, democratic and transitional periods, allowing for a detailed examination of the effect of the regime change on the commitment propensity and speed. Domestic-level, international-level and treaty-level variables have also been collected and they will be taken into account.