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The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe


  • Moravcsik, Andrew


Most formal international human rights regimes establish international committees and courts that hold governments accountable to their own citizens for purely internal activities. Why would governments establish arrangements so invasive of domestic sovereignty? Two views dominate the literature. “Realist” theories assert that the most powerful democracies coerce or entice weaker countries to accept norms; “ideational” theories maintain that transnational processes of diffusion and persuasion socialize less-democratic governments to accept norms. Drawing on theories of rational delegation, I propose and test a third “republican liberal” view: Governments delegate self-interestedly to combat future threats to domestic democratic governance. Thus it is not mature and powerful democracies, but new and less-established democracies that will most strongly favor mandatory and enforceable human rights obligations. I test this proposition in the case of the European Convention on Human Rights—the most successful system of formal international human rights guarantees in the world today. The historical record of its founding—national positions, negotiating tactics, and confidential deliberations—confirms the republican liberal explanation. My claim that governments will sacrifice sovereignty to international regimes in order to dampen domestic political uncertainty and “lock in” more credible policies is then generalized theoretically and applied to other human rights regimes, coordination of conservative reaction, and international trade and monetary policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Moravcsik, Andrew, 2000. "The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 217-252, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:54:y:2000:i:02:p:217-252_44

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    Cited by:

    1. Eric Neumayer, 2006. "Do international human rights treaties improve respect for human rights?," Conferences on New Political Economy,in: Max Albert & Stefan Voigt & Dieter Schmidtchen (ed.), Conferences on New Political Economy, edition 1, volume 23, pages 69-104(36 Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen.
    2. repec:cog:poango:v:5:y:2017:i:2:p:79-92 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Spilker, Gabriele, 2013. "The WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism – Enforcement, State Power, and Dispute Recurrence," Papers 584, World Trade Institute.
    4. repec:bla:jcmkts:v:55:y:2017:i:4:p:815-831 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Axel Dreher & Katharina Michaelowa, 2008. "The political economy of international organizations," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 3(4), pages 331-334, December.
    6. Darren Hawkins & Wade Jacoby, 2008. "Agent permeability, principal delegation and the European Court of Human Rights," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 3(1), pages 1-28, March.
    7. Goderis, Benedikt & Versteeg, Mila, 2014. "The diffusion of constitutional rights," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 1-19.
    8. Ulrich Sedelmeier, 2014. "JCMS Special Issue 2014: Eastern Enlargement Ten Years On: Transcending the East-West Divide? Guest Editors: Rachel A. Epstein and Wade Jacoby," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(1), pages 105-121, January.
    9. Erik Voeten, 2010. "Borrowing and Nonborrowing among International Courts," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(2), pages 547-576.
    10. Susan Ariel Aaronson & M. Rodwan Abouharb, 2010. "Unexpected Bedfellows: The GATT, the WTO, and Some Democratic Rights," Working Papers 2010-12, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
    11. Mark Copelovitch & David Ohls, 2012. "Trade, institutions, and the timing of GATT/WTO accession in post-colonial states," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 81-107, March.
    12. O'Brien, Cheryl, 2015. "Transnational issue-specific expert networking: A pathway to local policy change," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 146(C), pages 285-291.
    13. Blome, Kerstin, 2011. "Wie erfolgversprechend ist die Reproduktion institutionellen Designs? Individualbeschwerden im Kontext des Inter-Amerikanischen Menschenrechtssystems sowie des juristischen Systems der Andengemeinscha," TranState Working Papers 144, University of Bremen, Collaborative Research Center 597: Transformations of the State.
    14. repec:kap:copoec:v:28:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10602-017-9238-x is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Christodoulos Kaoutzanis & Paul Poast & Johannes Urpelainen, 2016. "Not letting ‘bad apples’ spoil the bunch: Democratization and strict international organization accession rules," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 399-418, December.
    16. Jonas Tallberg & Thomas Sommerer & Theresa Squatrito, 2016. "Democratic memberships in international organizations: Sources of institutional design," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 59-87, March.
    17. Seok-ju Cho & Yong Kyun Kim & Cheol-Sung Lee, 2016. "Credibility, preferences, and bilateral investment treaties," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 25-58, March.

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