Symposium : Marking the Universal Declaration's 60th Anniversary: A Human Rights Symposium

Incomplete Internalization and Compliance with Human Rights Law


In earlier work, we argue that acculturation is a distinct social process by which international law influences states and that human rights law might harness this mechanism in designing effective global regimes. In this article, we consider an important objection to our work. The concern is whether acculturation institutionalizes non-compliance. The growing body of empirical evidence for global-level acculturation, in part, documents persistent forms of decoupling – suggesting that formal commitments to global culture often fail to change concrete practices of local actors. In the human rights context, this is particularly troubling, given the prevalence of seemingly disingenuous acceptance of human rights instruments by states with poor human rights records. Many critics suggest, and understandably so, that acculturation should not guide the design of international human rights regimes since any such regime would promote only shallow reforms – further entrenching the gap between formal commitments and actual practices. The problem with human rights law, on this view, is that it is under-enforced – not that it is insufficiently acculturative. In reply, we argue that acculturation generally does not impede progress toward deeper reform and, indeed, will often facilitate it.

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