CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Clarity & Compliance in the Inter-American Human Rights System

November 18th, 2011

Lecture synopsis by Hannagan Johnson, CIPR RPA

Pictured: Professor Jeffrey Staton, Emory University

In his visit to Tulane’s Center for Inter-American Policy and Research on November 10th, 2011, Jeffrey K. Staton, professor at Emory University and specialist on judicial politics, presented his research on compliance in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). Staton framed his lecture with the following questions: what explains varying state compliance with judicial orders and what explains the varying clarity of judicial orders?

Presenting data collected from case study research, Staton demonstrated that state compliance of the Inter-American Court’s judicial decisions is affected by the degree of clarity of a given decision; he has generally found that increased clarity enhances the likelihood of compliance. However, Staton also explained that judges might not always have an incentive to be clear. If judges clearly delineate how a judicial decision should be implemented, they increase the IACHR’s and the individual state government’s vulnerability to a crisis of legitimacy. In other words, failure to implement a clear judicial decision is more likely to demonstrate ineffectiveness of the Court and/or the individual state itself than is an unclear decision; an unclear decision would make noncompliance more difficult to observe because it would not be fully evident what was required in the first place.

Another disincentive for clarity that Staton offered was the fact that it is not the Court itself that actually executes the implementation of its decisions; it must rely on the state governments to do so. Reduced clarity of a judicial decision might allow greater flexibility for those individual states more familiar with the situation to formulate more specific policy within a broader policy. This also relates to Staton’s emphasis on the recognition of the inevitable interdependence of the policy implementation process. Since the IACHR does not execute its judicial orders, it is dependent on the states for implementation. Staton asserted that while upholding the independence of the Court is important, it must also be understood among judges of the IACHR that it is not they who will be implementing their decisions, and therefore, they must contextualize their judicial decisions and weigh whether or not increased clarity is more beneficial given the situation. Nevertheless, Staton’s overall finding is that there is generally a positive correlation between greater clarity and increased compliance in the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Audio Podcast of Lecture available here.