14 - US reservations to human rights treaties: all for one and none for all?  pp. 392-415

US reservations to human rights treaties: all for one and none for all?

By Catherine Redgwell

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The purpose of this chapter is to examine US treaty-making practice in the particular context of reservations to human rights treaties. In the past decade or so the United States has ratified a number of international human rights treaties, including the 1948 Genocide Convention, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the 1984 Torture Convention. However, particularly in the case of the ICCPR, ratification was accompanied by a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations which significantly modify the Convention in its application to the United States and, indeed, in at least two instances may be argued to run contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention. Unsurprisingly therefore, rather than leading to widespread praise and support for the United States in buttressing human rights guarantees on the international level, US ratification of the ICCPR has led to criticisms of the insulation of the US domestic legal order from external influences in the human rights field and the resulting manifestation of an isolationist “superiority complex.” Indeed, the US approach to ratification of human rights treaties has been characterized by an “à la carte multilateralism,” in terms both of the (more limited) number of treaties accepted and of the (qualified) obligations assumed. The United States “remains an anomalous outlier with respect to many widely ratified conventions (e.g. the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women or the Convention on the Rights of the Child)” and it has entered the highest number of reservations by States parties to the Torture Convention, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the ICCPR.