Individual Petitions’ Effect on Human Rights

In this virtual workshop, Rachel Schoner presented her recent work on the role of individual petitions and non-binding decisions in improving human rights causes.

Paper Abstract

Can non-binding decisions by inter-governmental organizations improve respect for human rights? Much of the existing literature believes that international law has a limited effect, especially without enforcement mechanisms, in the countries where it’s needed the most. Focused on repressive regimes, this paper analyzes petitions filed by victims of human rights abuse in the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the overseeing body of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a form of naming and shaming, I theorize that Committee violation rulings may improve human rights when paired with civil society organizations that publicize the rulings. I use a multi-methods approach including quantitative analysis of physical integrity rights and case studies focused on specific policies under contestation in the Committee. Leveraging an original dataset, I find that governments improve respect for the most severe abuses involving bodily harm immediately after violation rulings. These short-lived effects are driven by petitions where civil society actors are listed as representation.


  • Rachel Schoner (presenter) is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Princeton Center for Globalization and Governance.
  • Brian Greenhill is Associate Professor, Political Science and International Affairs in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY.
  • Emily Ritter is Associate Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.