Insincere Commitments

Human Rights Treaties, Abusive States, and Citizen Activism

Heather Smith-Cannoy

"The accessible language and strong evidence will make it an interesting read for students and scholars, as well as for professionals working in the field of international human rights."
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Paradoxically, many governments that persistently violate human rights have also ratified international human rights treaties that empower their citizens to file grievances against them at the United Nations. Therefore, citizens in rights-repressing regimes find themselves with the potentially invaluable opportunity to challenge their government’s abuses. Why would rights-violating governments ratify these treaties and thus afford their citizens this right? Can the mechanisms provided in these treaties actually help promote positive changes in human rights?

Insincere Commitments uses both quantitative and qualitative analysis to examine the factors contributing to commitment and compliance among post-Soviet states such as Slovakia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Heather Smith-Cannoy argues that governments ratify these treaties insincerely in response to domestic economic pressures. Signing the treaties is a way to at least temporarily keep critics of their human rights record at bay while they secure international economic assistance or more favorable trade terms. However, she finds that through the specific protocols in the treaties that grant individuals the right to petition the UN, even the most insincere state commitments to human rights can give previously powerless individuals—and the nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations that partner with them—an important opportunity that they would otherwise not have to challenge patterns of government repression on the global stage.

This insightful book will be of interest to human rights scholars, students, and practitioners, as well as anyone interested in the UN, international relations, treaties, and governance.

Table of Contents


1. A New Approach to Commitment and Compliance

2. Patterns of Commitment

3. Causes of Commitment

4. Individual Petitions in Eastern Europe: Racial Discrimination in Slovakia
5. Hungary and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

6. The UN Human Rights Committee in Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

7. The Causes and Consequences of Commitment Reconsidered



"The unique contribution of this book is in demonstrating how citizens, NGOs, and activists seize on these new treaties and utilize the individual petition process at the UN to successfully enhance state compliance with treaties and in turn improve human rights… a solid book that makes an important contribution to the academic debates on human rights and international law."—Choice

"The accessible language and strong evidence will make it an interesting read for students and scholars, as well as for professionals working in the field of international human rights."—Journal of Peace Research

"Insincere Commitments is a model of multi-method research. Smith-Cannoy employs data analyses to assess global patterns of treaty commitment and offers fascinating case studies that illuminate the motives of governments and trace the ways in which insincere commitments can pave the way for real human rights progress. This book will deservedly earn a wide audience among students and scholars of human rights, international law, and international relations."—Wayne Sandholtz, professor of political science, University of California, Irvine

"Insincere Commitments is a fascinating and rigorous account for why governments of newly independent countries take on international human rights legal obligations, and how these seemingly costless commitments can have unanticipated bite down the road. A must-read for anyone interested in international human rights or the politics of Central Asia or Eastern Europe."—Jana von Stein, assistant professor of political science, University of Michigan

"Heather Smith-Cannoy provides insights into the consequences of human rights treaties, even when commitments are made by obviously insincere governments intent on drawing in international aid and investment. Those with the most at stake have used these agreements to literally change their rights chances on the ground. Anyone skeptical about the consequences of human rights treaty ratification—and especially protocols that give individuals a right to complain before treaty implementation bodies—should read these cases with an open mind."—Beth A. Simmons, Harvard University

"Heather Smith-Cannoy has written a careful and persuasive book on the importance of human rights NGOs—the UN system of individual petition cannot be effective without them. Drawing on multiple theories and research methods, including in depth case studies in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, this book should be of interest to scholars of human rights, social movements and international law."—Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, associate professor, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation

"This incisive study shows the power of civil society to transform insincere commitment to life-saving compliance. It provides critical insight on the evolution of transnational interactions over time, advancing the debate on how norms matter. Combining rigorous statistical analysis with apt case studies, this book affirms the importance of empowerment for realizing global governance."—Alison Brysk, Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

""This is a very welcome addition to the burgeoning scholarship on modern slavery and human trafficking, with a particular focus on sex trafficking. The volume provides a careful analysis that begins with definitional issues and then proceeds through aggregate quantitative analysis followed by a series of comparative case studies. The analysis demonstrates the complex interplay between legal frameworks and national level drivers for the phenomenon, offering timely insights into a persistent global challenge." Todd Landman, Professor of political science, pro-vice-chancellor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and executive director of the Rights Lab, University of Nottingham"—


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Heather Smith-Cannoy is an assistant professor of international affairs at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

224 pp., 6 x 9
18 figures, 16 tables
May 2012

224 pp., 6 x 9
18 figures, 16 tables
ISBN: 978-1-58901-887-7
May 2012

224 pp.
18 figures, 16 tables
ISBN: 978-1-58901-896-9
May 2012

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