On January 25, Professor Beth Simmons of Harvard University spoke as part of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Series on international human rights. Simmons, the Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, presented research from her award-winning book Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (2009).
During her lecture, Simmons explored the reasons why certain countries chose to ratify binding international treaties and others did not. Looking specifically at six "core" treaties, Simmons discussed the various domestic factors and international pressures that would explain the often-unexpected behavior of the nations toward these treaties. Strikingly, Simmons found that one of the best predictors of a country's position on a treaty was the ratification or non-ratification by its neighboring nations. This discovery, she said, suggested that nations could influence non-signatory neighbor countries to sign such treaties.
Simmons then turned to the analysis of why, and to what extent, these treaties matter - a question she is often asked by her students. While insisting that international treaties alone do not "solve all the problems," Simmons emphasized their role in framing human rights issues not only on the international level, but also in domestic politics. According to Simmons, these treaties support the domestic efforts of individuals and organizations across the globe that can now "point to [these] core focal group of documents as evidence [of their rights]."