Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 July 2009
Approximately 40,000 bilateral and multilateral agreements are registered with the United Nations. The widespread assumption, at least among international legal scholars, is that states substantially comply with these obligations. But the evidence suggests that the picture is far more mixed, and that sometimes there is minimal compliance at best. Many human rights treaties are in effect, but gross violations of human rights continue, as witnessed by the torture and death of hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador to Bosnia, Rwanda to East Timor. A consular convention protects citizens of other countries domestically, but local authorities widely ignore its obligations. A treaty bans international trade in endangered species of fauna and flora, but the trade in some species continues to flourish, especially with a handful of importing countries. Countries join the World Trade Organization and subscribe to GATT 1994, but without necessarily having the capacity to comply. WTO disputes, over matters such as the sale and distribution of bananas, the use of beef hormones by North American cattle producers, and the prohibition of certain shrimp imports in order to protect endangered sea turtle populations, lead to results that the losing party is either loath to comply with or finds difficult for domestic reasons. We need to understand why countries comply or don't comply with international law in order to determine what strategies may be effective in strengthening compliance with international law.