The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Does It Make a Difference in Human Rights Behavior?

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Keith, Linda Camp (1999) The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Does It Make a Difference in Human Rights Behavior? , Journal of Peace Research 36(1): 95–118.

Formal acceptance of international agreements on human rights has progressed to the point where currently over three-quarters of the UN member states are parties to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. In fact, becoming a party to this covenant seems to be concomitant with joining the UN. Of the newly independent states in Eastern Europe and in the region of the former Soviet Union, only Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Macedonia have not joined the treaty. This article tests empirically whether becoming a party to this international treaty (and its optional protocol) has an observable impact on the state party's actual behavior. The hypothesis is tested across 178 countries over an eighteen-year period (1976-93) and across four different measures of state human rights behavior. Initial bivariate analyses demonstrate some statistically significant differences between the behavior of states parties and the behavior of non-party states. However, this difference does not appear in the bivariate analysis that compares the states parties' behavior before becoming a party to the treaty with their behavior after becoming a party state. When the analysis progresses to more sophisticated multivariate analysis, in which factors known to affect human rights are controlled, the impact of the covenant and its optional protocol disappears altogether. Overall, this study suggests that it may be overly optimistic to expect that being a party to this international covenant will produce an observable direct impact.

Replication datasets available