© 2020 by International Justice Lab.

International Law and Courts

"Reserving Rights: Explaining Human Rights Treaty Reservations"

Invited to revise and resubmit at International Studies Quarterly.


Authors: Kelebogile Zvobgo and Wayne Sandholtz (University of Southern California)

2019 Best Paper Award, Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association 

International relations scholarship has made significant strides in explaining how states design treaty obligations and why they accept treaty commitments. However, far less attention has been paid to factors that may influence states’ modification of their treaty obligations via reservations. We theorize that states will be more likely to enter reservations when treaty obligations and domestic institutions increase compliance costs and policy adjustment costs. More specifically, we expect that (1) demanding provisions, i.e., provisions that create strong, precise obligations requiring domestic action, and (2) demanding domestic institutions, such as judicial independence, will enhance the likelihood of reservation. To test our theory, we exploit an original dataset that codes reservations at the provision (treaty-article-paragraph) level for the ten core international human rights treaties. Consistent with our expectations, we find that states are more likely to enter reservations on more demanding treaty provisions. However, we do not find a consistent relationship between demanding domestic institutions and reservations. Reservations do not appear to be driven purely by state-level characteristics as previous scholarship suggests. Our findings indicate that states weigh individual treaty obligations and calibrate their commitments accordingly.

"Complementarity and Public Views on Overlapping Domestic and International Courts"

In progress.

Authors: Kelebogile Zvobgo and Stephen Chaudoin (Harvard University)

A growing regime complex of domestic and international legal institutions have overlapping jurisdictions for violations of international law. In many contexts, the jurisdiction of the international court is restricted by the principle of "complementarity": the international court can only intervene in countries where governments have proved unwilling or unable to conduct investigations or plaintiffs have exhausted domestic remedies. We ask whether complementarity (a) increases support for international courts’ actions and (b) increases support for domestic remedies as a way to forestall international court action. International courts, especially the International Criminal Court, rely heavily on an affirmative answer to both questions. We assess these predictions with a survey experiment about the ICC in the Republic of Georgia and with qualitative data from interviews with Georgian civil society actors and policy makers. We do not find that this framing improves support for ICC or domestic court actions. These results are important because they indicate that arguments about complementarity are unlikely to stem the tide of increasingly negative public opinion against international courts and international organizations, more generally.