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Political Institutions and Human Rights: Why Dictatorships Enter into the United Nations Convention Against Torture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2008

James Raymond Vreeland
Yale University, New Haven, Conn. E-mail:
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This article addresses a puzzle: dictatorships that practice torture are more likely to accede to the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) than dictatorships that do not practice torture. I argue the reason has to do with the logic of torture. Torture is more likely to occur where power is shared. In one-party or no-party dictatorships, few individuals defect against the regime. Consequently, less torture occurs. But dictatorships are protorture regimes; they have little interest in making gestures against torture, such as signing the CAT. There is more torture where power is shared, such as where dictatorships allow multiple political parties. Alternative political points of view are endorsed, but some individuals go too far. More acts of defection against the regime occur, and torture rates are higher. Because political parties exert some power, however, they pressure the regime to make concessions. One small concession is acceding to the CAT.For detailed suggestions, I thank Rodwan Abouharb, Emanuel Adler, Lawrence Broz, José Cheibub, David Cingranelli, Jennifer Gandhi, Geoff Garrett, Valerie Frey, Stephan Haggard, Oona Hathaway, Darren Hawkins, Stathis Kalyvas, Judith Kelley, Paul Lagunes, Jeffrey Lewis, Ellen Lust-Okar, Nikolay Marinov, Lisa Martin, Covadonga Meseguer, Layna Mosley, Louis Pauly, Daniel Posner, Kal Raustiala, Dan Reiter, Darius Rejali, Ronald Rogowski, Peter Rosendorff, Mike Tomz, Jana Von Stein, Christine Wotipka, and especially the two anonymous reviewers. I am also grateful for comments from participants at the Kellogg Institute International Political Economy Seminar at Notre Dame; the UCLA International Institute Global Fellows Seminar; the University of Southern California Center for International Studies Workshop; the UCSD Project on International Affairs Seminar; and the Emory University Globalization, Institutions, and Conflict Seminar. For support, I thank the UCLA International Institute, the ETH Zurich, and the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.

Research Article
© 2008 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

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