Research

U.N. General Assembly

Book project

TRADING SOVEREIGNTY FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
States in the Global South have historically been among the strongest defenders and greatest beneficiaries of strict norms of sovereignty and non-interference. Yet, in the 1970s and 1980s, states in Latin America and Africa began to compromise on the norm of non-interference by delegating authority to enforce human rights to their own regional organizations. What explains this behavior? Why did this change occur unevenly across regions, with states in the Middle East and Southeast Asia continuing to uphold the norm of non-interference? I argue that states created these mechanisms as part of a strategy to counter the imposition of authority, especially in the form of economic pressure by powerful Western states.

I argue that states did this as a way of maintaining and increasing their self-determination. Beginning in the 1970s, Western governments began to enforce human rights by incorporating them into their economic relations with developing states. These new enforcement measures challenged the self-determination of states that were subject to them, creating a new set of human rights policies that were presented as a fait accompli and were implemented in contexts in which they were unable to exercise influence. In regions that faced these new pressures, states responded by attempting to establish regional authority over human rights, delegating authority to their regional organizations and then arguing that these organizations should be treated as legitimate authorities over human rights. By contrast, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, states did not experience the same pressures, and as a result, they maintained their previous stance on non-interference. In this way, delegation was a form of resistance. Regionalism provided a way for weaker states to exercise agency, mitigate the effects of international hierarchy and economic dependence, and increase their voice and influence over global governance.

I find that prominent supporters of human rights within these regions sharply criticized forms of enforcement that they viewed as counter to norms of self-determination, while encouraging forms of enforcement that did not. Oppressive dictatorships and states that genuinely supported human rights cooperated in an attempt to establish an alternative enforcement authority over human rights, one in which they could exercise greater voice and influence. States violating human rights became willing to delegate genuinely challenging authority to their regional organizations. These otherwise puzzling behaviors can be explained by the drive to maintain self-determination over international rules.

Publications

“The Global South and Global Human Rights: International responsibility for the right to development.” Third World Quarterly, 43(10): 2337-2356 (2022) [view]

Human rights are typically understood as governing the behavior of states towards the people within their borders. In this article, I argue that this domestic formulation of human rights is not universal, but came about through political bargaining and contestation. From at least the early twentieth century, a range of actors from the Global South developed an understanding of individual and collective rights that emphasized international responsibility, especially of wealthy, powerful states towards people in poorer, weaker states. I show that this foundational understanding served as an important basis for the how the Global South engaged with economic and social rights within the United Nations before, during and after the adoption of the Universal Bill of Rights. It eventually manifested in the campaign for the human right to development. Through an exploration of the drafting history of the Declaration on the Right to Development, I show how international responsibility was kept out of the declaration by the Western states that stood to be held responsible. Examining this alternative understanding of human rights recovers a forgotten contribution of the Global South, while shedding light on obstacles to contemporary political projects like the campaign for international slavery reparations. 

Working papers

“Trading Sovereignty for Self-Determination” [view, Appendix available upon request]
(Invited to Revise & Resubmit)

Weak or dependent states, especially those with histories of colonial and imperial domination, have traditionally been among the strongest advocates for strict institutionalization and observance of the norm of non-interference. These states are vulnerable to international pressure, and they have sought to limit this pressure by “jealously” guarding their sovereignty. Yet, after decades of advocating for strict non-interference, many weak states have begun to delegate extensive interventionist authority to their regional organizations. What explains this change? I argue that an important motivation was an attempt to maintain self-determination. I extend the definition of self-determination to incorporate self-determination over international rules, which distinguishes voluntarily delegating authority from having external authority imposed. I then examine the decision by Latin American states to compromise on non-interference by delegating authority to enforce human rights to the Organization of American States. I provide evidence that this change cannot be fully explained without accounting for the importance of self-determination as a political goal of states.

“Procedural Checks and Constraint through Delegation” [view]
(Under Review. Invited to submit to Review of International Organizations as part of special issue on the Power of the Weak in IOs)

The norm of non-interference has traditionally been an important tool for weak states to constrain unwanted actions by strong states. Yet in recent decades, many weak states have become willing to delegate interventionist authority to international organizations in which these strong states are members, effectively sanctioning their interference. What explains this behavior? I argue that, in some cases, weak states will accept rules permitting interference as a way to constrain powerful states from carrying out this interference. If stronger states become willing to openly disregard the norm of non-interference, this presents interference as the new status quo. In response, weak states can attempt to re-establish constraints over these actions by formally delegating authority to carry out unwanted interference alongside procedural checks, or rules delineating the process through which action can legitimately be taken. To assess this argument, I examine the addition of a human rights suspension clause to the Lomé Convention, an aid and preferential trade agreement between the European Economic Community and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of states. Explanations that point to one-sided dominance of IOs by strong states or straightforward support for policies on the part of weak states cannot account for important dynamics, including continued objections to the practice of suspension by ACP states and the willingness of European states to accept and utilize procedural checks. 

Work in progress

“Regionalism as Resistance”

“Bureaucracy and the Politics of De-Politicization: Linking human rights and development”

“Participation and Powerlessness: Why ‘Good’ states oppose international norms”

“Agency under Hierarchy”

“Latin America and the Mutual Constitution of Sovereignty and Human Rights”


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