Explaining International Human Rights Regimes: Liberal Theory and Western Europe

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Under what conditions are effective international regimes for the promotion of human rights likely to emerge? Case studies of European institutions — the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Community and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe — confirm hypotheses more consistent with Liberal theories of international relations than their Institutionalist or Realist counterparts. The uniquely successful mechanisms of the European regime, in particular its fine-grained system of individual petition and supranational judicial review, function not by external sanctions or reciprocity, but by ‘shaming’ and ‘coopting’ domestic law-makers, judges and citizens, who pressure governments from within for compliance. The evolution of these mechanisms presupposes the existence of an autonomous independent civil society and robust domestic legal institutions and, even in the relatively propitious circumstances of postwar Europe, required several generations to evolve. Such institutions appear to be, with only a few exceptions, most successful when they seek to harmonize and perfect respect for human rights among nations that already effectively guarantee basic rights, rather than introducing human rights to new jurisdictions. Those nations in which individuals, groups or governments seek to improve or legitimate their own democratic practices benefit the most from international human rights regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-189
Number of pages33
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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