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Conflict and Compliance

Theoretically and methodologically sophisticated, Conflict and Compliance paints a new picture of the complex dynamics at work when states face competing pressures to comply with and violate international human rights norms.

Conflict and Compliance
State Responses to International Human Rights Pressure

Sonia Cardenas

2007 | 200 pages | Cloth $69.95 | Paper $24.95
Political Science
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Table of Contents


1. Introduction: Compliance Revisited
2. Human Rights Pressure and State Violations
3. Skeptics Under Fire: Human Rights Change in the Southern Cone
4. Bounded Optimism: The Limits of Human Rights Influence
5. State Responses in Global Perspective
6. Compliance and Resistance in International Politics

Appendix: Measuring Human Rights Determinants

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


This book has its origins in the streets of Cairo. As a visiting fellow there years ago, researching the Arab world's relations with European countries across the Mediterranean, I was struck by a prominent gap: the disparity between the numerous international cooperation agreements that governments concluded and the daily conditions of people on the ground. This contradiction led me to question more generally the sources of compliance with international norms and the conditions required for human rights protection. The result is this book, which has nothing to do with Egypt per se but focuses on the multiple and complex ways in which states around the world respond to human rights pressure.

Despite my attention to states as political actors, or the role of national leaders and activist organizations, the key protagonists are the victims of abuse. Their stories have both inspired and haunted me. And I do little justice to them here other than to use their full names whenever possible in the text, a small symbol of their significance.

In this book I seek, above all, to unify disparate fields of study, contributing to the growing volume of social science research on human rights. Theory and methods are therefore used in the book as tools to illuminate complex patterns of interaction. As such, I have cast my net broadly to benefit from the insights of international relations, international law, comparative politics, sociology, and history, as well as studies from other disciplinary perspectives. On the empirical side, the scope is also deliberately broad, presenting in-depth cases from Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, a statistical survey of all the countries in the world in the 1990s, and a brief application of the argument to a set of prominent cases spanning the globe: Eastern Europe, South Africa, China, Israel, and Cuba. My aim is to bolster the argument's persuasiveness by submitting it to a variety of tests and circumstances. For example, although the Latin American cases compose the bulk of the book, they are intended to showcase the nuance and detail undergirding the argument, especially those aspects that may elude the rigors of quantitative analysis—such as state rhetoric, social demands, archival evidence of the institutionalization of ideas, and decision-making debates. The two chapters devoted to the region are thus structured analytically, one testing skeptics' assumptions and the other exploring the limits of human rights optimism; they reveal how the same events can be interpreted differently depending on one's analytical lens. Accordingly, the cases of Argentina and Chile serve as windows into the world of human rights compliance, geared to regionalists and nonregionalists alike.

Though human rights protection is premised on the peaceful respect for human dignity and diversity, conflict and tension feature prominently in this study. I am most interested in the conflict engendered when international human rights norms clash with domestic rules of exception, or when national security and personal integrity collide. I am also intrigued by the competitions that ensue between procompliance and proviolation constituencies. These tensions pervade real life but they remain surprisingly undertheorized. My assumption is that a more systematic understanding of these conflict dynamics is needed before we can comprehend the timing of human rights reforms, the persistence of state violations, and, more broadly, the conditions under which human rights pressures will most likely succeed. All of these issues raise crucial policy implications, vitally relevant in a post-September 11 world in which national security ideas so often trump human rights norms.

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