“Domestic Implementation of Supranational Court Decisions: The Role of Domestic Politics in Respect for Human Rights”

In my dissertation, I examine the extent to which supranational human rights courts, specifically the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights (ECtHR and IACtHR), influence respect for rights. Despite the unprecedented growth in the activity of regional human rights courts, relatively little is known about their effectiveness. The conventional wisdom holds that international legal commitments have little influence on state behavior. However, recent work highlights the wide variation in state response to international legal commitments as mediated by domestic institutions.  Might courts as diverse as the ECtHR, which is understood to be powerful and presides in a region of relatively high respect for rights, and the IACtHR, which is understood to be weak and presides in a region with lesser respect for rights, influence respect for rights?  Existing work provides us little reason to believe so, and in my dissertation, I argue why that is wrong.  Extant work focuses upon state’s compliance with the specific orders of courts, and has revealed that the extent of state compliance with ECtHR and IACtHR rulings is more similar than one may have expected.  But researchers have yet to examine the impact of these court’s rulings upon the state’s broader level of respect for rights.  Tying to existing work in other areas in the field, I theorize that the impact of courts is conditional upon the incentives of domestic actors, which are produced by the institutions those actors inhabit.  More specifically, I argue that the extent to which states implement supranational human rights court decisions is largely conditional on executive implementation and executive expectation of implementation by domestic actors. As the final domestic policy authority on respect for rights, the executive faces incentives to evade implementation of decisions handed down by supranational judicial bodies, yet domestic institutional arrangements that directly threaten the executive’s hold on power can generate incentives for the executive to implement these decisions. Further, executive expectation of implementation by other domestic actors (the domestic judiciary, the legislature, and members of civil society) may indirectly threaten the executive’s hold on power and generate further executive implementation incentives. Using a Bayesian hierarchical linear model, I find evidence supporting the role of executive implementation in the face of direct and indirect threats to power.

Download (PDF)


Violence against Women and the Law, with David L. Richards. 2015. Paradigm Publishers: Boulder, CO.

“Disaggregating Torture Allegations: Introducing the Ill-Treatment and Torture (ITT) Country-Year Data,” with Courtenay R. Conrad and Will H. Moore. International Studies Perspectives 14(2): 199-220.

“Torture Allegations as Events Data: Introducing the Ill-Treatment and Torture (ITT) Specific Allegation Data,” with Courtenay R. Conrad and Will H. Moore. 2014. Journal of Peace Research. 51(3):429-438.

Working Papers:

“Generating Executive Implementation Incentives: The Role of Domestic Judicial Power in Supranational Human Rights Court Effectiveness”

“The Informational Role of NGOs in Democratic Survival,” with Christopher Reenock.