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Promoting compliance with human rights: the performance of the UN Universal Periodic Review and treaty bodies

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What mechanisms facilitate state compliance with human rights? This article proposes and applies a model to assess the extent to which two United Nations human rights mechanisms, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the state reporting procedure of the treaty bodies, are perceived as capable to stimulate compliance with human rights, and why. It does so by identifying a set of goals potentially achieved by these organizations – generating pressure, stimulating learning, providing an accurate overview of states’ performance, and delivering practically-feasible recommendations – and testing the extent to which reaching these goals is seen to facilitate compliance with human rights. It concludes that the treaty bodies’ perceived strength lies in providing states with learning opportunities and an accurate overview of their internal situations. In contrast, the UPR is deemed particularly strong in generating peer and public pressure on states. From a theoretical point of view, this article shows that, under certain conditions, the three main theoretical schools on compliance – enforcement, management, and constructivist – offer credible explanations for states’ performance in implementing human rights recommendations, with the enforcement school faring relatively better than the others. Data were collected by means of forty semi-structured interviews and an online survey.


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Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Early online date2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019