FOUNDATION: Unit V. International Human Rights in the Domestic US Context 4 of 7

Human Rights Treaties Becoming Part of US Law:
Q & A


1. Can a president “un-sign” a treaty?

President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 1998. This is the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC). While Clinton had concerns about the treaty, he signed to allow the US to participate in development of the rules of the court. However, when President George W. Bush came to office in 2001, he was so strongly opposed to the ICC that he took the unprecedented step of “un-signing” the treaty. The US today is not party to the Rome Statute, and is therefore not a participant in the assembly of states that governs the ICC.

2. Does the US ever attach RUDs?

The US is known for attaching many RUDs to the human rights treaties to which it is a party.
RUDs are usually attached to the treaty by the Senate in the course of giving its advice and consent, but the president may also propose RUDs.

3. What’s the difference between a self-executing treaty and a non-self-executing treaty?

  • Self-executing treaties become part of US federal law automatically upon ratification. If a human rights treaty, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, is self-executing, the treaty is the equivalent of US federal law. Private citizens may use the treaty as the basis for a lawsuit against a public authority (such as the federal government) that may have allegedly violated a right afforded to an individual under that treaty.
  • Non-self-executing treaties require legislation to be passed to implement the treaty into national law to give it domestic effect. Non-self-executing treaties may not be used as the basis of a lawsuit in a US court, since they are not yet part of US law. Some human rights treaties are explicitly non-self-executing — such as the Genocide Convention — and actually require that states pass domestic legislation in order to make its rights violations illegal under their domestic law. So even though the US signed the Genocide Convention in 1948, the international crime of genocide was not a crime punishable under US law until the US passed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act in 1988.

A treaty’s language usually says whether it is to be considered self- or non-self-executing. If it does not, one has to wait until someone tries to use it as the basis for a legal claim, and then a court will decide.

Why did the US attach RUDs to the ICCPR treaty?

The ICCPR is another example of a non-self-executing treaty. The treaty could not be invoked in a US court. Why isn’t this treaty part of US law?

What did the US lose by “un-signing” the ICC Treaty? Did the US gain anything?

What impact does attaching RUDs have on the integrity of the treaty?

Parties to the Rome Statute
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
The United States and the International Criminal Court
US RUDs for Treaty for the Rights of Women (pdf file)