The Influence of History on States’ Compliance with Human Rights Obligations

by Adam S. Chilton & Eric A. Posner ~ Mar 02, 2017

There is considerable variation in countries’ respect for human rights. Scholars have tried to explain this variation on the basis of current conditions in countriessuch as democracy and civil warand events from the recent pastsuch as ratification of human rights treaties. This literature has ignored the influence that history may have on human rights performance. Drawing on the literature on economic developmentwhich has shown that institutions, events, and conditions from the distant past heavily influence the rate of economic growth across countries todaywe argue that scholars should study whether the same factors have influenced modern human rights performance. Our exploratory look at the data suggests that respect for human rights today may be related to the geographic location of affected populations centuries ago, the nature of the institutions that emerged at that time, and cultural traits that have been passed down from generation to generation. These preliminary results suggest that human rights scholars could make substantial progress toward understanding states’ human rights practices by building on the work of development economics.


PDF forthcoming.


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