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Among the explanations for state ratification of human rights treaties, few are more common and widely accepted than the conjecture that states are rewarded for ratification by other states. These rewards are expected to come in the form of tangible benefits—foreign aid, trade, and investment—and intangible benefits such as praise, acceptance, and legitimacy. Surprisingly, these explanations for ratification have never been tested empirically. We summarize and clarify the theoretical underpinnings of “reward-for-ratification” theories and test these propositions empirically by looking for increased international aid, economic agreements, and public praise and recognition following ratification of four prominent human rights treaties. We find almost no evidence that states can expect increased tangible or intangible rewards after ratification. Given the lack of empirical support, alternative explanations seem more appealing for understanding human rights treaty ratification.


International law, human rights, treaty ratification, motivations for ratification, tangible rewards, intangible rewards, empirical research

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International Studies Quarterly

Publication Citation

Published as: Rewards for Ratification: Payoffs for Participating in the International Human Rights Regime?, 59 Int'l Stud. Q. 197 (2015).