Working Group on Law and Democracy

Emily Hencken Ritter Lecture: Tenure, Treaties, and Torture: The Conflicting Domestic Effects of International Law

Mon, March 19, 2012 | Batts 5.108

12:00 PM - 1:30 AM

International human rights treaties are argued to increase the likelihood of popular mobilization and domestic judicial effectiveness. These augmented pressures pull leaders in conflicting directions: mobilization undermines leaders’ position in power, increasing incentives to repress; effective courts raise the probability of litigation, decreasing incentives to repress. We argue authorities balance these pressures based on their job security. Politically insecure leaders, desperate to retain power, repress to control the destabilizing effects of mobilization. Secure leaders are less likely to fall to citizen pressures, and the probability of facing an effective judiciary weighs heavily in their expected costs. Consequently, they repress less to avoid litigation. We find empirical support for the implications of our formal theory using data on commitment to the Convention Against Torture. Treaties have no effect on repression in states with insecure leaders but have a positive effect on rights protection in states headed by secure leaders.


Emily Hencken Ritter is an assistant professor of International Relations in the University of Alabama Department of Political Science. She received her PhD from Emory University. Her research and teaching interests include international human rights institutions, law, and practice; international governance and legal institutions; and institutional solutions to bargaining and cooperation problems. Her methodological training includes quantitative and qualitative methods and game theory. More specifically, her current research focuses on the effects of international and domestic institutions on state repression and domestic conflict. 

Sponsored by: Department of Government

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