The domestic effects of international human rights treaty ratification

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The domestic effects of international human rights treaty ratification in the member states of the Co-operation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC)

The development of international human rights treaties has been the central multilateral effort of states in addressing human rights at the international level over the past 60 years. Since the first United Nations human rights treaty opened for ratification in 1965, the number of international human rights treaties has increased significantly, so has the number of ratifications of these treaties by these states. These treaties cover civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the rights of the child, women, disabled and migrant workers. There are also three special treaties focusing on torture, racial discrimination and on the prohibition of enforced disappearance. Treaty ratification renders the provisions of the relevant human rights instrument legally binding, hence playing a significant role in promoting the universality of human rights.

The international community has put a lot of emphasis on urging all states to ratify all 9 of these core international human rights treaties. Ratifications are regularly reported on, they are encouraged by key human rights actors and the issue is regularly raised when states report on their human rights record within the United Nations Human Rights Machinery.

Member States of the GCC have been an important part of the trend towards ratification of international human rights treaties. Out of a total possible fifty-four ratifications from the GCC states (that is ratifications of 9 core international human rights treaties by 6 states: Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia), to date thirty-one human rights instruments have been ratified. Significantly, all GCC states are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In parallel to these GCC regional developments in international human rights treaty ratification, legal scholars and students of international relations and political science have turned their attention to international treaty ratification. Earlier scholarship, particularly in international relations and political science, had not paid attention to domestic effects of international human rights treaties. This was because it had generally been thought that states ratify these treaties with international gains in mind such as maximizing reputation or securing a trade or aid benefit; that domestic effects, if any, would be negligible or that international pressure would be the key mechanism in bringing about those effects. Human rights treaty ratification, therefore, had been studied as a matter of international politics rather than as a cause that brings about changes at the domestic state and society level. This view prevailed despite the fact that states, if ever, rarely denounce treaties once ratified and even after the intended international benefits are gained, do not abandon international human rights treaties.

Despite the ratification trend in the GCC Member States, the domestic effects of these treaties have not received adequate scholarly attention. The objective of this project is to address this gap with the view of contributing to empirically informed theory development.