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‘Reserved Ratification’: An Analysis of States’ Entry of Reservations Upon Ratification of Human Rights Treaties

  • Heather Elko McKibben and Shaina D. Western


Governing elites often ratify human rights treaties, even when their policies do not align with those treaties’ obligations. This article argues that this can be explained by the fact that executives anticipate the potential challenges these treaties could raise vis-à-vis their domestic policies and enter different types of reservations when they ratify to head them off. The types of reservations they use depend on key characteristics of the executive’s policies and practices, as well as its relationship with the legislative and judicial branches. Domestic actors can raise different types of challenges against the executive depending on variations in these key factors. The types of reservations executives use will therefore vary depending on the specific challenges ratification raises for them. Using an original dataset of the reservations states entered on human rights treaties registered with the United Nations, and employing an event history analysis, this study shows that the particular challenges treaties present for executives in different types of states help explain variation in how they use reservations when they ratify human rights treaties.



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Heather Elko McKibben, Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis (email:; Shaina D. Western, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford (email: We would like to thank Debra Leiter, Shareefa Al-Adwani, the editor, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Davis for their financial support in carrying out this project. Replication data are available in Harvard Dataverse at: (McKibben and Western 2017), and online appendices at



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‘Reserved Ratification’: An Analysis of States’ Entry of Reservations Upon Ratification of Human Rights Treaties

  • Heather Elko McKibben and Shaina D. Western


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