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Best Evidence: The Role of Information in Domestic Judicial Enforcement of International Human Rights Agreements

  • Yonatan Lupu (a1)

Independent domestic courts play important roles in enforcing international human rights agreements, thereby providing a mechanism by which international institutions can affect government policy. Yet this enforcement power is constrained not only by independence but also by the courts' ability to overcome information problems. Domestic courts' enforcement power depends on information in two ways: the costs of producing legally admissible evidence of abuses and the applicable legal standards of proof. When countries ratify international agreements, judicial enforcement can improve government practices when evidence-production costs and standards of proof are low, but not otherwise. With respect to personal integrity rights violations, evidence is especially difficult to obtain, and standards of proof are high, meaning that the courts will not be able to constrain government practices. By contrast, evidence-production costs and standards of proof are lower for other civil rights violations, so courts will be able to prosecute offenders and bring governments into line with their international commitments. Consistent with this theory, I find that commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) have significantly improved governments' respect for the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, and religion. With respect to personal integrity rights, however, I find that commitments to the ICCPR have not improved government practices.

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