China, Human Rights

International socialization and the diffusion of human rights norms


Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Wikipedia)
Navanethem Pillay of the U.N. (Wikipedia)

In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; since then, the world has seen both widespread progress and continuing human rights abuses in various countries. Numerous factors determine states’ decision to uphold or ignore international norms; one is a state’s involvement or membership within intergovernmental organizations (IGOs).

While one would expect a state’s involvement with human-rights-based IGOs to have a positive effect, the question remains whether other types of IGOs — particularly those with no connection to human rights issues — also promote the international diffusion of human rights norms. A 2010 paper by the University of Washington, “The Company You Keep: International Socialization and the Diffusion of Human Rights Norms,” used cross-national data on human-rights abuses within 137 countries between 1982 and 2000 to test whether IGOs promoted the spread of human rights norms through inter-state socialization.

The paper’s findings include:

  • There are two ways in which states may be coerced by IGOs to adapt their human rights practices: Either directly as a condition of entry; or subtly, through socialization and interaction with other member states.
  • Direct conditional adaption is the exception, not the rule, as too few IGOs have the coercive power or offer the potential benefits to induce prospective and current members to significantly change their behavior.
  • In terms of socialization effects, statistical analysis suggests a strong correlation between the human-rights performance of a country’s fellow IGO members at a given point in time and that country’s own human-rights performance in subsequent years.

Overall, the paper indicates that IGOs can have a positive impact on human rights even if they’re not central to the organizations’ mission. This may have policy implications for nations seeking to promote the diffusion of human rights norms abroad through increased international exposure and interaction.

Tags: China, law

By | September 5, 2011

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