Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Megan Shannon

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Fitzgerald

Third Advisor

Professor Ozlem Koc


Do reservations make international human rights law more or less powerful? Scholars are divided on the overall utility of reservations and attempt to explain their effect on human rights compliance with descriptive variables such as liberal democracy, or domestic legal protection, but assume compliance depending on the subjective appeal of these descriptive variables. This study will attempt to test the utility of reservations by taking a new approach –directly testing utility by conducting empirical analysis on whether or not the submission of a reservation affects compliance with international human rights requirements. I argue that contrary to previous research positing a negative utility, and the formal mechanism to object to reservations within the international law regime, reservations have a positive utility and are submitted by states who actively intend to comply with their international law obligations. To evaluate my theory, I examine the relationship between total reservations submitted by states to the six major human rights treaties with that of these states’ human rights compliance scores. Controlling for a number of factors, I find that there is a significant positive relationship between reservations and human rights compliance. This may indicate that reservations are associated with a positive utility, providing an argument against the formal practice of submitting an objection to another ratifying state’s reservation as the positive utility of reservations may allow states to commit to international human rights treaties on terms that provide an overall benefit to their compliance, and thus make international human rights law more powerful.