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Global Human Rights and State Sovereignty: State Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties, 1965–20011


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     The authors contributed equally to this research and their names appear in random order. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2001. The authors thank John W. Meyer, Francisco O. Ramirez, David John Frank, Mark Granovetter, Emilie Hafner-Burton, Doug McAdam, Beth Simmons, Jackie Smith, and participants of the Stanford Comparative Workshop for their comments on previous drafts of the article. For assistance with data analysis, the authors are grateful to Jeong-Woo Koo. They acknowledge financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF/SES-0214168.2002), the Bechtel Initiative on Global Growth and Change, and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University (Francisco O. Ramirez and John W. Meyer, PIs).


This research seeks to understand the factors that lead nation-states to ratify international human rights treaties in the contemporary world, despite their potential cost for state sovereignty. We argue that normative pressure from international society, along with historical contingencies during the Cold War, encouraged many states to ratify these treaties. We present an event-history analysis of ratification of seven key international human rights treaties in 164 countries in the period between 1965 and 2001. The results lend support to the world society argument as well as to our historical argument and also specify that normative pressure and imitation have been important factors shaping states’ decisions to ratify international human rights treaties.