Skip to main content Accessibility help

Emergency and Escape: Explaining Derogations from Human Rights Treaties

  • Emilie M. Hafner-Burton (a1), Laurence R. Helfer (a2) and Christopher J. Fariss (a3)


Several prominent human rights treaties seek to minimize violations during emergencies by authorizing states to “derogate”—that is, to suspend certain civil and political liberties—in response to crises. The drafters of these treaties envisioned that international restrictions on derogations, together with international notification and monitoring mechanisms, would limit rights suspensions during emergencies. This article analyzes the behavior of derogating countries using new global data sets of derogations and states of emergency from 1976 to 2007. We argue that derogations are a rational response to domestic political uncertainty. They enable governments facing serious threats to buy time and legal breathing space from voters, courts, and interest groups to confront crises while signaling to these audiences that rights deviations are temporary and lawful. Our findings have implications for studies of treaty design and flexibility mechanisms, and compliance with international human rights agreements.



Hide All
Allain, Jean. 2004. International Law in the Middle East: Closer to Power Than Justice. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.
Archer, Ronald P., and Shugart, Matthew Soberg. 1997. The Unrealized Potential of Presidential Dominance in Colombia. In Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America, edited by Mainwaring, Scott and Shugart, Matthew Soberg, 110–59. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Banks, Arthur S. 2010. Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive. Databanks International. Jerusalem, Israel. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 April 2011.
Barbieri, Katherine, Keshk, Omar, and Pollins, Brian. 2008. Correlates of War Project Trade Data Set Codebook, Version 2.0. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 18 April 2011.
Barbieri, Katherine, Keshk, Omar, and Pollins, Brian. 2009. Trading Data: Evaluating Our Assumptions and Coding Rules. Conflict Management and Peace Science 26 (5):471–91.
Beck, Nathaniel, Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Beardsley, Kyle. 2006. Space Is More Than Geography: Using Spatial Econometrics in the Study of Political Economy. International Studies Quarterly 50 (1):2744.
Beck, Nathaniel, and Katz, Jonathan N.. 1995. What to Do (and Not to Do) with Time-Series Cross-Section Data. American Political Science Review 89 (3):634–47.
Beck, Nathaniel, Katz, Jonathan N., and Tucker, Richard. 1998. Taking Time Seriously: Time-Series-Cross-Section Analysis with a Binary Dependent Variable. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4):1260–88.
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M., and Jones, Bradford S.. 1997. Time Is of the Essence: Event History Models in Political Science. American Journal of Political Science 41 (4):1414–61.
Carlson, Matthew, and Listhaug, Ola. 2007. Citizens' Perceptions of Human Rights Practices: An Analysis of 55 Countries. Journal of Peace Research 44 (4):465–83.
Carter, David B., and Signorino, Curtis S.. 2010. Back to the Future: Modeling Time Dependence in Binary Data. Political Analysis 18 (3):271–92.
Cole, David D. 2003. Judging the Next Emergency: Judicial Review and Individual Rights in Times of Crisis. Michigan Law Review 101 (8):2565–95.
Council of Europe. 2010. List of Declarations Made with Respect to Treaty No. 005: Complete Chronology. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed April 2011.
Dickson, Brice. 2010. The European Convention on Human Rights and the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York: Oxford University Press.
Farber, Daniel A. 2002. Rights as Signals. Journal of Legal Studies 31 (1):8398.
Fitzpatrick, Joan. 1994. Human Rights in Crisis: The International System for Protecting Human Rights during States of Emergency. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Fitzpatrick, Joan. 1998. States of Emergency in the Inter-American Human Rights System. In The Inter-American System of Human Rights, edited by Harris, David J. and Livingstone, Stephen, 371–94. New York: Oxford University Press.
Goldsmith, Jack L., and Posner, Eric A.. 2005. The Limits of International Law. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gross, Oren. 2003. Chaos and Rules: Should Responses to Violent Crises Always Be Constitutional? Yale Law Journal 112 (5):1011–134.
Gross, Oren, and Ní Aoláin, Fionnuala. 2006. Law in Times of Crisis: Emergency Powers in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Guzman, Andrew T. 2005. Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression. International Organization 59 (3):593629.
Guzman, Andrew T. 2009. The Design of International Agreements. European Journal of International Law 16 (4):579612.
Guzman, Andrew T. 2008. How International Law Works: A Rational Choice Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2005. Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression. International Organization 59 (3):593629.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M. 2009. Forced to Be Good: Why Trade Agreements Boost Human Rights. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., Mansfield, Edward D., and Pevehouse, Jon C.. 2011. Human Rights Institutions, Sovereignty Costs and Democratization. Unpublished manuscript, University of California, San Diego, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., and Tsutsui, Kiyoteru. 2005. Human Rights in a Globalizing World: The Paradox of Empty Promises. American Journal of Sociology 110 (5):1373–411.
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., and Tsutsui, Kiyoteru. 2007. Justice Lost! The Failure of International Human Rights Law to Matter Where Needed Most. Journal of Peace Research 44 (4):407–25.
Hathaway, Oona A. 2002. Do Human Rights Treaties Make a Difference? Yale Law Journal 111 (8):19352042.
Hathaway, Oona A. 2005. Between Power and Principle: An Integrated Theory of International Law. University of Chicago Law Review 72 (2):469536.
Heckman, James J. 1976. The Common Structure of Statistical Models of Truncation, Sample Selection and Limited Dependent Variables and a Sample Estimator for Such Models. Annals of Economic and Social Measurement 5 (4):475–92.
Helfer, Laurence R. 2002. Overlegalizing Human Rights: International Relations Theory and the Commonwealth Caribbean Backlash Against Human Rights Regimes. Columbia Law Review 102 (7):1832–911.
Helfer, Laurence R. 2005. Exiting Treaties. Virginia Law Review 91 (7):1579–648.
Hertel, Shareen, Scruggs, Lyle, and Heidkamp, C. Patrick. 2009. Human Rights and Public Opinion: From Attitudes to Action. Political Science Quarterly 124 (3):443–59.
Ho, Daniel E., Imai, Kosuke, King, Gary, and Stuart, Elizabeth A.. 2007. Matching as Nonparametric Preprocessing for Reducing Model Dependence in Parametric Causal Inference. Political Analysis 15 (3):199236.
Human Rights Watch. 2007. Venezuela: Disturbing Plan to Suspend Due Process. Chávez Supporters Seek to Suspend Rights in Emergencies, 15 October 2007. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 April 2011.
Imai, Kosuke, King, Gary, and Lau, Olivia. 2008. Toward a Common Framework for Statistical Analysis and Development. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics 17 (4):892913.
International Law Association. 1984. The Paris Minimum Standards of Human Rights Norms in a State of Emergency. Report of the 61st Conference of the International Law Association, August–September, Paris, France.
Joseph, Sarah, Schultz, Jenny, and Castan, Melissa. 2005. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Cases, Materials, and Commentary. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kahler, Miles. 2000. Conclusion: The Causes and Consequences of Legalization. International Organization 54 (3):661–83.
King, Gary, Honaker, James, Joseph, Anne, and Scheve, Kenneth. 2001. Analyzing Incomplete Political Science Data: An Alternative Algorithm for Multiple Imputation. American Political Science Review 95 (1):4969.
Koremenos, Barbara. 2005. Contracting Around International Uncertainty. American Political Science Review 99 (4):549–65.
Koremenos, Barbara, Lipson, Charles, and Snidal, Duncan. 2001. The Rational Design of International Institutions. International Organization 55 (4):761–99.
Kucik, Jeffrey, and Reinhardt, Eric. 2008. Does Flexibility Promote Cooperation? An Application to the Global Trade Regime. International Organization 62 (3):477505.
Mansfield, Edward D., and Snyder, Jack. 2002. Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength, and War. International Organization 56 (2):297337.
Marshall, Monty G. 2010. Major Episodes of Political Violence (MEPV) and Conflict Regions, 1946–2008. Codebook. Center for Systemic Peace. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 25 April 2011.
Marshall, Monty G., and Jaggers, Keith. 2007. Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2006. Dataset Users' Manual. Center for Systemic Peace. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 April 2011.
McGoldrick, Dominic. 2004. The Interface Between Public Emergency Powers and International Law. International Journal of Constitutional Law 2 (2):380429.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 2000. The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe. International Organization 54 (2):217–52.
Neumayer, Eric. 2003. Do Human Rights Matter in Bilateral Aid Allocation? A Quantitative Analysis of 21 Donor Countries. Social Science Quarterly 84 (3):650–66.
Neumayer, Eric. 2005. Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights? Journal of Conflict Resolution 49 (6):925–53.
Neumayer, Eric. 2007. Qualified Ratification: Explaining Reservations to International Human Rights Treaties. Journal of Legal Studies 36 (2):397429.
Neumayer, Eric. 2010. Do Governments Mean Business When They Derogate? Human Rights Violations During Declared States of Emergency. Unpublished manuscript, London School of Economics, London, England. Available at ⟨⟩. Accessed 7 April 2011.
Ní Aoláin, Fionnuala. 1995. The Emergence of Diversity: Differences in Human Rights Jurisprudence. Fordham International Law Journal 19 (1):101–42.
Nowak, Manfred. 2005. UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary. 2d rev. ed. Arlington, Va.: N.P. Engel.
Omar, Imtiaz. 1996. Rights, Emergencies, and Judicial Review. The Hague, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International.
Oràà, Jaime. 1992. Human Rights in States of Emergency in International Law. New York: Oxford University Press.
Parrish, Scott. 1998. Presidential Decree Authority in Russia, 1991–95. In Executive Decree Authority, edited by Carey, John M. and Shugart, Matthew Soberg, 62103. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pelc, Krzysztof J. 2009. Seeking Escape: The Use of Escape Clauses in International Trade Agreements. International Studies Quarterly 53 (2):349–68.
Posner, Eric A., and Vermeule, Adrian. 2007. Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts. New York: Oxford University Press.
Powell, Emilia Justyna, and Staton, Jeffrey K.. 2009. Domestic Judicial Institutions and Human Rights Treaty Violation. International Studies Quarterly 53 (1):149–74.
Ramraj, Victor V., ed. 2008. Emergencies and the Limits of Legality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Raustiala, Kal. 2005. Form and Substance in International Agreements. American Journal of International Law 99 (3):581614.
Regan, Patrick M., Frank, Richard W., and Clark, David H.. 2009. New Datasets on Political Institutions and Elections, 1972–2005. Conflict Management and Peace Science 26 (3):286304.
Risse, Thomas, Ropp, Stephen C., and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1999. The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rosendorff, B. Peter, and Milner, Helen V.. 2001. The Optimal Design of International Trade Institutions: Uncertainty and Escape. International Organization 55 (4):829–57.
Russett, Bruce M. 1990. Controlling the Sword: The Democratic Governance of National Security. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Schreuer, Christoph. 1982. Derogation of Human Rights in Situations of Public Emergency: The Experience of the European Convention on Human Rights. Yale Journal of World Public Order 9 (1):113–32.
Sepúlveda, M. Magdalena. 2003. The Nature of the Obligations Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Antwerpen, The Netherlands: Intersentia.
Shelton, Dinah. 2002. Hierarchy of Norms and Human Rights: Of Trumps and Winners. Saskatchewan Law Review 65 (2):301–32.
Signorino, Curtis S. 2003. Structure and Uncertainty in Discrete Choice Models. Political Analysis 11 (4):316–44.
Simmons, Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Simpson, A. W. Brian. 2001. Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Sykes, Alan O. 1991. Protectionism as a ‘Safeguard’: A Positive Analysis of the GATT ‘Escape Clause’ with Normative Speculations. University of Chicago Law Review 58 (1):255305.
United Nations Commission on Human Rights. 1984. The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. United Nations Document E/CN.4/1985/4 28 September.
World Bank. 2009. World Development Indicators 2009. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
Zorn, Christopher J. W. 2001. Generalized Estimating Equation Models for Correlated Data: A Review with Applications. American Journal of Political Science 45 (2):470–90.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Hafner-Burton et al. supplementary material

 PDF (207 KB)
207 KB

Emergency and Escape: Explaining Derogations from Human Rights Treaties

  • Emilie M. Hafner-Burton (a1), Laurence R. Helfer (a2) and Christopher J. Fariss (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed