1 Chi. J. Int'l. L. 347 (2000)
The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties

handle is hein.journals/cjil1 and id is 355 raw text is: The Charade of US Ratification of International
Human Rights Treaties
Kenneth Roth*
It is sadly academic to ask whether international human rights law should trump
US domestic law. That is because, on the few occasions when the US government has
ratified a human rights treaty, it has done so in a way designed to preclude the treaty
from having any domestic effect. Washington pretends to join the international
human rights system, but it refuses to permit this system to improve the rights of US
This approach reflects an attitude toward international human rights law of fear
and arrogance-fear that international standards might constrain the unfettered
latitude of the global superpower, and arrogance in the conviction that the United
States, with its long and proud history of domestic rights protections, has nothing to
learn on this subject from the rest of the world. As other governments increasingly see
through this short-sighted view of international human rights law, it weakens
America's voice as a principled defender of human rights around the world and
diminishes America's moral influence and stature.
The US government's approach to the ratification of international human rights
treaties is unique. Once the government signs a treaty, the pact is sent to Justice
Department lawyers who comb through it looking for any requirement that in their
view might be more protective of US citizens' rights than pre-existing US law. In each
case, a reservation, declaration, or understanding is drafted to negate the additional
rights protection. These qualifications are then submitted to the Senate as part of the
ratification package.'
* Executive Director, Human Rights Watch.
i. This effort should be distinguished from the US government's parallel, legitimate effort to ensure
that the ratification process enhances US citizens' tights by identifying and entering reservations to
any treaty provision that might detract from pre-existing rights. For example, Article 20 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires prohibition of[ajny propaganda for
war. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 999 UNTS 171,6 ILM 368 (1966). The
US ratification of the ICCPR appropriately contains a reservation rejecting any requirement that

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