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Oona A. Hathaway to Speak on "Why Countries Commit to Human Rights Treaties," May 2


Oona A. Hathaway, associate professor of law at YLS, will give a presentation to the Human Rights Workshop titled "Why Countries Commit to Human Rights Treaties," on Friday, May 2, at 12:30 p.m., in the Faculty Lounge. The talk is sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, and is free and open to the public.

Between 1945 and 2000, the number of multilateral international treaties increased from 440 to over 40,000. "After the breakdown of international order during the Second World War, nations increasingly sought to use international law to constrain and bind one another," Oona A. Hathaway writes in a paper she will present to the Human Rights Workshop. She points out that most nations have signed treaties regulating nearly every aspect of state power--from waging war to holding criminal trials.

However, Hathaway argues that there has been relatively little scholarly attention to why nations choose to join such binding agreements. She seeks to partly fill this lacuna by examining human rights treaties. "I focus first and foremost on human rights treaties in part because there appear to be no easy answers to the question of why states join. . . . It may seem obvious why a state would want to join an agreement that--while it requires the state to charge lower tariffs on incoming goods--requires other parties to the agreement to give its own exports similar treatment. It is much less obvious why a state would want to join an agreement that requires it to provide fair trials . . . when all it receives in return is a reciprocal promise by other members to treat their own citizens with similar respect," writes Hathaway.

Her talk will consider theories offered by the existing literature and then propose a new model to explain state decisions to commit to human rights treaties. Hathaway looks at the benefits and costs of joining such treaties within a three-tiered model, with which she tries to account for "the complex, multiple, sometimes conflicting, incentives that the opportunity of treaty membership creates for states."