FOUNDATION: Unit III. Human Rights in International Law 6 of 7

Treaties and Sovereignty

Tension exists between efforts to advance global human rights and concerns about effective sovereignty. International human rights norms internationalize what used to be a state's internal affairs. When states consent to treaties, they agree to internationalize subject matter covered by treaties. Discussion by outsiders is always permitted. Other international action may be allowed, depending on the wording of the treaties.

For example, Europe is more willing than the US to sacrifice aspects of sovereign control, giving an important role in protecting human rights to international organizations and even to international courts. The US, compared to European states, is more protective of a broad and almost absolute notion of state sovereignty and is more willing to act unilaterally. But both the US and Europe are party to many important treaties.

Consent is a key principle in international law. In legal principle (as compared to political fact), states can’t be coerced into membership to treaties. They freely choose to take on the obligations a treaty imposes on them. Human rights treaties limit sovereignty, but these treaties are created through an exercise of that same sovereignty. States use their power to set limits on themselves, consenting to rules that limit their freedom of policy-making for the sake of protecting the human dignity of their citizens.

The United States has never ratified the treaty on the Rights of the Child. Should the rest of the world community respond in any way?

Are there areas in your own life in which you give up some freedoms to make the community better or safer? For example, does the Patriot Act affect you?

Ben Franklin said anyone who was willing to give up liberty in exchange for security deserved neither liberty nor security. Do you agree? Why?

US Senate: Treaties
Wikipedia: USA Patriot Act