Human Rights and International Law (20): Ratifying the Convention Against Torture With the Express Purpose of Torturing Anyway

There’s an interesting paper here arguing

that torturing regimes may deliberately sign the Convention Against Torture intending to violate it, in order to signal to domestic opponents that they are so determined to hold on to power they will torture them in spite of the cost they incur for treaty violations. … “Messrs Hollyer and Rosendorff believe the intent [of signing the treaty] is to show how dedicated the regime is to maintaining power, how much it will sacrifice. But there is another possible signal: the regime shows its opponents that it knows international pressure cannot disturb its grip on power in the slightest”. (source)

[A] regime that tortures its opponents and refuses to sign the Convention Against Torture shows that it fears international opprobrium. A regime that tortures its opponents and blithely signs the Convention Against Torture anyway shows that it fears nothing. (source)

This is the proper occasion to link back to an older post of mine on the difference between normative universality and real universality.

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4 thoughts on “Human Rights and International Law (20): Ratifying the Convention Against Torture With the Express Purpose of Torturing Anyway”

  1. This is an interesting theory. I think it makes some sense as well. I think it could also apply to the United States (and definitely Israel, I’d say). The U.S. is a rogue state and refuses to heed to international law. One reason is because they can, just like the Mafia Don can ignore laws without much fear of retribution. For smaller states that torture, for example, it’s a much stronger signal to dissidents because smaller states don’t exactly have the luxury of not fearing retribution. However, one of the problems is in the enforce of these laws. Torturing regimes can sign laws, partly as a signal to dissents but also because enforcement does not seem to be very thorough. Israel, for example, is a leading terrorist state and can continue to be because it’s doubtful anything will ever be done about it.

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