Category Archives: HUMAN RIGHTS

Are human rights dead?

I debate with Professor Ian Hurd. I chose to define “human rights” as human rights law. He used a more capacious definition, treating “human rights” as any moral assertion by oppressed people against those with power. I agree that that kind of behavior is alive and well, as it has been for millennia, but that’s not what people mean by human rights.

Many people think of human rights as whatever a liberal democracy or a social democracy does. If that’s what human rights means, then it isn’t dead, but it’s hardly prospering either.

Human Rights “Juries” at the United Nations


A Guest Post by Adam Chilton.

In 1946, the United Nations created an organization charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the world called the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The CHR was frequently criticized, however, because the countries elected to serve on it were notorious human rights violators.  For instance, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch once compared the CHR to “a jury that includes murderers and rapists, or a police force run in large part by suspected murderers and rapists who are determined to stymie investigation of their crimes.”

In 2006, the UN replaced the CHR with a new body known as the Human Rights Council (HRC) that had new membership rules and election procedures designed to solve the problems that plagued the CHR. In a new short paper, Rob Golan-Vilella—a student at the University of Chicago Law School—and I examine whether the 2006 UN reform actually produced a better “jury.”

The above figure presents our primary results. The top left panel shows that members of the human rights bodies consistently had worse records than the other UN members from 1998 to 2013 (eight years before and after the 2006 reform), but the gap did close a little after the creation of the HRC in 2006. Since the elections to the human rights bodies occur by region, the rest of the panels show the results by UN region. They reveal that in some regions the 2006 reform largely closed the gap (e.g. Africa), but in other regions the effects were much more modest (e.g. Asia-Pacific).

Why does the gap persist? In the paper we show that when there are contested elections, countries with better human rights records typically win. The problem is that—perhaps because they think they won’t win or don’t care about being a member—countries with good human rights records frequently aren’t candidates in the elections for these bodies.

If you’d like to know more, our paper is up on SSRN and has published by the Harvard International Law Journal Online. (Note: Eric previously posted some of the initial graphs I made on this topic.)

Rights Without Resources


A Guest Post by Adam Chilton and Mila Versteeg

The world’s constitutions have increasingly included commitments to protect social and economic rights. For example, as the figure above shows, by 2012 81 percent of all countries’ constitutions included the right to education and 71 percent protected access to healthcare.

But little is known about whether these rights actually change how governments provide social services to their citizens. In a new paper on the topic, we empirically test whether the inclusion of the right to education and healthcare actually change either government spending or relevant outcomes like school enrollment or life expectancy.

Using a variety of statistical approaches, we consistently find that these rights have no effect: the inclusion of these rights in constitutions are not associated with a statistically significant or substantively meaningful changes in government spending or outcomes.

For example, the figure below shows our estimated effect size from several regressions estimating the relationship between a constitutional right to education and healthcare on the % of GDP that countries spend on education and healthcare. The figure shows a precisely estimated null effect. In other words, the results show that countries that adopt these rights do not change their spending on providing these rights at all. There’s a lot more, as well as the details on these regressions, in the paper


Olympic Participation and Women’s Rights

A Guest Post by Adam Chilton:

Are the number of women on a country’s Olympic team a good proxy for women’s rights in that country? Yesterday, Ryan Briggs–a political scientist at Virginia Tech–suggested the idea on Twitter and then decided to take a look at the data.


As Briggs’ above graph shows, the fraction of women on a country’s Olympic teams has clearly gone up over time. The relationship between women’s rights and Olympic participation, however, is less clear.


In the graph above, Briggs plotted the proportion of women in a county’s parliament against the fraction of women on the country’s Olympic team in 2012. Somewhat surprisingly, there is almost no correlation. To look into the data more, I decided to use some of Briggs’ code to scrape the data on Olympic participation and merge it with data from the Gender Equality Index (Eric and I have used this data previously to study the effectiveness of human rights treaties).

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The above graph shows my results. To be clear, these are just exploratory scatter plots that do not control for other variables, and more carefully analysis would have to be done before reaching any definitive conclusions. That said, the data seems to suggests that there used to be a fairly strong correlation between higher scores on the Gender Equality Index and women’s participation, but that over time countries have sent more women to the Olympics faster than they’ve improved their human rights.

It’s an interesting question why countries with poor women’s rights records increasingly send as many women to the Olympics as countries with good records. If I had to speculate, I’d guess that these countries believe that the boost that Olympic medals provide to national pride is worth the costs of sending any athlete that qualifies to the Olympics regardless of gender.  But whatever the reason, hopefully women’s Olympic participation will increasingly create pressure for countries to invest more in their women in other ways too.

What’s the best use for Human Rights Watch’s budget?

For the past few years, I’ve been flogging the idea that money spent to enforce human rights would be more productively devoted to development aid. I make this argument in a book; and I have developed it in an article, just posted on SSRN, which argues that development agencies should not consider themselves constrained by human rights law or required to “promote” human rights, as this idea is sometimes put.

The argument is based on the premise that the “human rights regime” (which is hard to define in any event) does not actually improve the well-being of people in poor (or rich) countries. It’s too hard for outsiders–well-meaning NGOs and more ambiguously motivated governments–to figure out how to advance human rights in foreign countries, or even what that means. There is a huge amount of disagreement about what rights mean and require, and how priorities should be established in a world of limited budgets and attention spans.

A problem with my argument has always been that the same thing can be said about development aid. Although the picture is not as bleak as the human rights picture is, many economists don’t think that development aid does much good. The reasons are similar to the reason why human rights enforcement does not do much good: we (on the outside) often find ourselves flummoxed by foreign cultures, institutions, and values, which overturn the best plans.

Yet here is a paper by David McKenzie that reports the results of a randomized control trial where $36 million was randomly assigned to small businesses in Nigeria that applied for grants in a business-plan competition and reached the semi-final round. The winners received grants of around $50,000. Over the next several years, they hired many more people , innovated more, and earned larger profits than the control group. By stimulating economic activity, the donations did more than just transfer a fixed sum of money to people in a poor country.

Meanwhile, HRW’s budget was $65 million as of 2013. It’s an article of faith that HRW does good, but there is no evidence whatsoever. HRW’s donors should use this paper as an opportunity to exercise effective altruism and redirect their donations accordingly.

The human development index

The human development index (HDI) was developed in the wake of Amartya Sen’s critique of development policy that is oriented toward GDP growth. Sen argued that development policy should promote freedom as well. The authors of the HDI included various measures of freedom (or mostly: of human well-being) like political rights, literacy, and health. As the graph below shows, however, a policy of promoting GDP is not much different from a policy of promoting HDI, especially given how noisy both these measures are.hdi

The Influence of History on Human Rights

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A joint post by Adam Chilton & Eric Posner:

In a new working paper–The Influence of History on States’ Compliance with Human Rights Obligationswe argue that scholars studying human rights could learn a lot from development economics.

There are considerable differences in countries’ levels of respect for human rights. Human rights scholars trying to explain these differences have focused on current variables. These current variables include things like whether countries have ratified international agreements or included specific protections in their constitutions.

There are also considerable differences in countries’ levels of wealth. Development economists trying to explain these differences have focused on the influence of history. For example, development economists have examined the influence of geographic factors, technological adoption hundreds of years ago, and the development of high-quality institutions centuries ago on countries’ current GDP.

If the legacy of history is a powerful predictor of economic differences between countries, it follows that history should explain the differences in countries’ respect for human rights. The graphs above illustrate this point. The graph on the left plots countries based on their latitude and GDP Per Capita in 2010. As the graph clearly shows, there is a strong,  positive relationship between these two variables: countries further from the equator are wealthier. The graph on the right plots countries based on the number of years since they adopted women’s suffrage and their current levels of women’s economic rights (this data is from the widely used CIRI human rights dataset). Once again, there is a strong, positive relationship: the same countries that respected women’s rights a hundred years ago respect women’s rights today.

In our paper, we develop this argument by testing the relationship between historical variables used in the development literature and current human rights practices. The results provides evidence suggesting that a number of the variables from development economics are powerful predictors of respect for human rights. If you’d like to learn more about our argument, method, or results, the paper is now available on SSRN.

Debate with Kenneth Roth about human rights treaties

You can read the debate here. Since having a blog means always having the last word, I add a few further responses to his last entry.

1. I don’t actually advocate the repeal of human rights treaties. It is enough to ignore them, or even just to recognize that they allow almost unlimited discretion because violation of them is unavoidable.

2. Ken argues correctly that the mere fact that a law (for example, the law against murder) is frequently violated is not an argument for repealing the law. But that’s not my argument. I think governments frequently violate human rights law for good reasons–having to do with the limits of their capacity and the rigidity of the law. I don’t think anyone has a good reason to violate laws against murder or rape.

3. Ken recounts a number of anecdotes where he says that treaty ratification led to a change in the behavior of states. I never claim that literally no one pays attention to specific treaty obligations, and several of his examples (the landmine treaty, the European Convention, and so on) go beyond the scope of my claims, which are restricted to the universal human rights treaties. Beyond that, while his anecdotes are compelling, I have seen too many examples of anecdotal arguments falling apart on close inspection to be willing to take them at face value.

4. Finally, in the battle of reductios, Ken argues that I must believe that countries should be permitted to enslave their workers because I reject economic rights embodied in the ICESCR. My actual argument is that if the ICESCR is interpreted as giving migrant workers in Qatar western-style employment rights, that could very well hurt many more people than it helps. In actual fact, the ICESCR is ambiguous, so it is HRW that is urging Qatar to recognize minimum wages or collective bargaining rights. Will this improve the lives of most workers or end up grievously harming many workers because of a reduction in the demand for labor? What bothers me is that HRW thinks or pretends that it knows the answer to this question, but it doesn’t.

Reply to critics of my Chronicle piece on human rights programs

In the Chronicle article, I raised questions about whether human rights programs and law school human rights clinics advance legitimate university goals. I found two substantive responses on the Web.

1. Marco Simons argues (“On the off-chance that anyone does think this is a critique worth listening to“) that my view “is rooted in his belief that human rights law, indeed international law in general, is incoherent and useless. Thus he believes that any effort to give students experience in the practice of human rights law is simply political advocacy, because human rights law can be used for any political purpose.

I don’t believe (and have never said) that international law is incoherent and useless. I do think that human rights law is pretty incoherent, but I allowed that a clinic experience could be valuable to students if it teaches them (distinctively) legal skills and generates benefits for a client (or is likely to). So the way to respond to my argument is to show that specific human rights projects satisfy these two criteria. Simons does not offer any examples (though he makes several unintentionally damning comments about other types of clinics in an effort to show that human rights clinics are no worse than they are).

2. Sital Kalantry provides a more substantive response. She makes many points; I will leave readers to evaluate them for themselves. I will only address a couple. Among other things, she argues that

Some projects of IHR clinics do not involve representation of an individual client in a court case. Instead, they are aimed at achieving change for large groups of people through means other than courts. Those tactics require the use of legal skills beyond the traditional set. In the real world, public-interest and human-rights lawyers achieve social change by mobilizing peoples and communities using media or technology. Filing shadow reports with international treaty bodies, holding thematic hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or drafting reports using the moral persuasion that human-rights principles offer can raise the awareness necessary for legal change to occur.

I am skeptical that any of these activities (particularly the last) do make any difference, but my more specific concern is that once clinics start training legal skills “beyond the traditional set,” anything goes. I also suspect that once a clinic (human rights or any other type) decides that it does not need clients, but can represent any group with which it sympathizes, the link to law becomes attenuated, and the temptation to use law school resources for political ends becomes irresistible.

She also says:

He wonders whether a resolution by the Chicago City Council—that domestic violence is a human-rights violation—would reduce domestic violence. The purpose of the resolution on domestic violence is (among other things) to bring the United States closer to its international obligations, including strengthening the enforcement of a recent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decision that found the United States to be in violation of its obligations to protect domestic-violence victims and their families. But this is precisely why Posner thinks this project is pointless—because it attempts to draw the United States closer to its international law obligations.

I think this project is pointless because it is hard to believe that a City Council resolution without any legal force would have any effect on the level of domestic violence. I don’t see how the resolution brings the United States closer to its international obligations, which do not require all the cities in the United States to pass resolutions saying that they will change their behavior, but in fact requires them to change their behavior. (Exactly what binding treaty obligation requires the United States to reduce the level of domestic violence escapes me, but never mind.)

In a similar vein, she argues:

IHR clinics also “do good” by investigating and exposing human-rights abuses that would otherwise go unnoticed (like the report by the Stanford and NYU clinics describing the impact of drone strikes in Pakistan) and by pressuring governments to change their abusive policies by filing reports with numerous international and regional human-rights mechanisms.

I would accept this argument if the clinics also provided evidence that by exposing human-rights abuses and pressuring governments to change behavior, they regularly caused the governments to change their behavior–and in a way that is required by their treaty obligations rather than someone’s idea about what good policy requires.

Kalantry’s view, which is common among human rights advocates, is effectively that all policy arguments are legal arguments, and any kind of advocacy is legal advocacy. It then follows that when law students make any type of argument that a government somewhere should stop doing something that hurts people or do more to help people, they are engaging in human-rights legal practice for which they deserve academic credit.

Against human rights programs in universities

I criticize them (especially law school human rights clinics) in a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, available here. My argument is that the political activism that takes place through these programs sits uneasily with university commitments to research and pedagogy. In the case of law school clinics, nearly any form of political activism can be justified as furthering “human rights law” because of the ambiguity of this term. Indeed, the term is, in practice, so capacious that clinics can engage in political activism under the banner of human rights law without teaching students any legal skills.

Make the U.S. More Like Qatar

That’s the headline given to a piece that Glen Weyl and I wrote for TNR. Migration is probably the greatest force for improving the well-being of the very poor, and hence for reducing global inequality. However, migration is extremely unpopular. Native workers fear labor competition, and everyone dislikes foreigners, with their strange ways, and fear that if foreigners settle and become citizens, they will vote their customs into law. (Europeans once assumed that their Muslim immigrants would adopt European attitudes toward women’s rights, personal freedom, and the like, but now fear and dislike them because they have not.)

The Gulf countries have cut this Gordian knot by allowing massive migration while granting migrants few rights and no political freedoms. It is obvious that these two polices are connected. The question is what we should think about them. (We in the US benefit from a similar system, albeit a de facto rather than de jure system, and much smaller on a per capita basis, with our 10 million+ illegal immigrants. By contrast 95 percent of Qatar’s population are migrant workers.)

The overwhelming view among elites, NGOs, and commentators is that the Gulf model is odious. The Gulf states should offer all their migrants the full panoply of human rights (and their citizens as well, presumably). But that’s not going to happen. And it seems likely, based on a comparison of us and them, that the rejection of migrants and the denial of rights are linked. And so the question is unavoidable: who (on a per capita basis) do more for the poorest people in the world: the authoritarian Gulf states with generous migration and no rights, or the democratic, human rights-loving but migrant-excluding West?

Human rights law: A guide for the layperson

The list below has been compiled from the major human rights treaties, which have been ratified by the vast majority of countries.


Equality regardless of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin

Right to equal treatment before tribunals

Right to security of person

Right to effective protection and remedies

Right to freedom of movement and residence

Right to leave any country and return to one’s own

Right to nationality

Right to marriage and choice of spouse

Right to own property

Right to inherit

Right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion

Right to freedom of opinion and expression

Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association

Economic, social, and cultural rights

Right to form and join trade unions

Right to housing

Right to public health, medical care, social security, and social services

Right to education and training

Right to equal participation in cultural activities

Right of access to any public place or service

Freedom from racial segregation

Prohibition of racist propaganda and organizations

Right of self-determination

Freedom to dispose of own wealth and resources

No deprivation of own means of subsistence

Inherent right to life

Restrictions and rights for anyone sentenced to death

General gender equality clause

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion Prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention Right to assembly

Right to privacy of the home

Right to association

Right to privacy of communication

Freedom of movement

Equal enjoyment of civil and political rights regardless of gender

Right of access to court and tribunals (habeas corpus)

Prohibition of torture

Right to vote

Prohibition of ex post facto laws

Freedom to choose residence

Freedom to leave any country

Rights of lawful alien in face of expulsion

Right not to be expelled from home territory

Equality regardless of race

Right to present a defense

Right to form trade unions

Right to counsel

Right to public trial

Right to review by a higher tribunal

Presumption of innocence until proven guilty

Rights regarding trial preparation

Freedom from forced testimony or confession of guilt

Right to establish a family

Prohibition of slavery

Freedom from forced labor

Right to liberty and security of person

Rights of arrested person

Rights for children

Right to a remedy when rights are violated

Right to personal privacy

Prohibition of double jeopardy

Equality regardless of belief/philosophy

Right to remain silent

Right to a timely trial

Equality regardless of political opinion

Right to an interpreter

Equality regardless of language

Right to ‘fair trial’

Right to work for the government


Right to privacy of family life

Minority cultural rights

Right to protection of one’s reputation or honor

Equality of husband and wife within the family

Right to appeal to higher court

Equality regardless of economic status

Equality regardless of nationality

Rights for prisoners


Right of self-determination

General gender equality clause

Right to education

Right to a fair wage

Right to work

Right to highest mental and physical health

Equality in employment promotion

Right to form and join trade unions

Right to establish a family

Right to social security

Right to protection and assistance to the family

Right to culture

Artistic freedom

Right to rest and leisure

Right to housing

Right to favorable working conditions

Right to protection of intellectual property

Right to strike

Right to adequate standard of living

Woman empowerment in labor relations

Right to maternity leave

Prohibition of child labor

Right to food

Right to take part in cultural life

Right to enjoy scientific progress

Legislative equality regardless of gender

Equality for women in political and public life

Prohibition of trafficking and prostitution of women

Equality of the husband and wife in marriage and family relations

Same right to enter into marriage

Same right to freedom in choosing a spouse and entering into marriage

Same rights and responsibilities

Same rights with regards to their children

Same personal rights as husband and wife

Same rights with regards to property

Right to acquire, change, or retain nationality

Equality for women in the field of education

Equality for women in the field of employment

Right to safe working conditions

Right to social security

Woman empowerment in labor relations

Right to maternity leave

Right to social services such as child-care facilities

Special protection during pregnancy

Equality for women in the field of health care

Equality for women in rural areas

Right to participate in development planning

Right to health care

Right to benefit from social security programs

Right to training and education

Right to self-help groups and co-operatives

Right to participate in community activities

Right to adequate living conditions


Prohibition of torture

Protection from extradition to another

State where danger of torture exists

Rights while in custody for alleged offense

Right to communicate with appropriate representative


Right to have national State immediately notified of the custody

Fair treatment in proceedings

Prompt and impartial investigation of an alleged act of torture

Rights for complainants and victims of torture

Right to complain about act of torture

Right to protection

Right to fair and adequate compensation

Prohibition regarding statements made as a result of torture

Prohibition of other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment


Inherent right to life (for children)

Right to a name and nationality

Right to know and be cared for by parents

Right to preservation of identity

No separation from parents against child’s will

Protection from illicit transfer abroad and non-return

Freedom of expression

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion Freedom of association and of peaceful assembly Right to privacy

Freedom from attacks on honor and reputation

Access to mass media information and materials

Right to physical and mental protection

Right to humanitarian assistance

Right to good health

Right to social security

Right to an adequate standard of living

Right to education

Right to rest and leisure

Protection from harmful employment

Protection from illicit use of drugs

Protection from use of children in drug trafficking

Protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse

Protection from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment

Protection from abduction, sale, and trafficking

Protection from all other forms of exploitation

Protection from capital punishment and life imprisonment

Protection of children in armed conflicts

Prohibition of child labor

Best interests of the child as the primary consideration

Rights and duties of parents are respected

Rights for disabled children

Rights for minority children to enjoy own culture

Rights of children deprived of liberty

Rights of children accused of infringing penal law

Prohibition of death penalty


Equality for all migrant workers and their families

Free to leave any State

Right to enter and remain in their State of origin

Right to life

Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment/ punishment

Freedom from slavery

Freedom from forced labor

Right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion

Right to opinions

Right to freedom of expression

Right to privacy

Freedom from unlawful attacks on honor and reputation

Freedom from arbitrary deprivation of property

Right to liberty and security of person

Right to protection

Freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention

Equal rights as nationals

Freedom from confiscation or destroying of legal documents

Freedom from collective expulsion

Right to protection and assistance by their State of origin

Right to recognition as a person

Rights regarding employment

Equal treatment and benefits as nationals

Rights to form or join trade unions

Rights to social security

Right freely to choose remunerated activity

Rights to medical care

Rights of child

Right to a name, registration of birth, and a nationality

Right to education

Right to learn mother tongue and culture

Right to a cultural identity

Rights upon termination of stay

Right to be informed

Right to liberty of movement

Freedom to choose residence

Right to participate in public affairs of State of origin

Right to political rights in State of employment, if granted Equal treatment with nationals of State of employment

Protection of unity of family

Equality in accessing education

Equality in accessing social and health services

Equality in participating in cultural life

Rights regarding taxes

Rights for family of deceased migrant worked or dissolution of marriage

Rights for arrested migrant workers and their families

Right to be informed about arrest in own language

Right to trial or release

Own State shall be notified of the detention

Right to communicate and meet with authorities in the own State

Right to a court trial

Victims of unlawful arrest or detention have the right to compensation

Right to be treated with humanity

Equal rights as nationals

Rights for accused migrant workers and their families

Right to be separated from convicted persons

Rights for juvenile persons to be separated from adults

Right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty Rights in the determination of criminal charges

Right to be reviewed by a higher tribunal

Freedom from imprisonment for failing to fulfill a contractual obligation

Rights for expelled migrant workers and their families

Rights for frontier workers

Rights for seasonal workers

Rights for itinerant workers

Rights for project-tied workers

Rights for specified-employment workers

Rights for self-employment workers

Rights regarding international migration

Rights to sound, equitable, humane, and lawful conditions

Rights to services to deal with questions


Prohibition of armed forces members aged <18 from taking direct part in hostilities

Prohibition of children aged <18 from compulsory recruitment into armed forces

Special protection for persons aged <18

Armed groups prohibited from recruiting or using in hostilities persons aged <18

Prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography

Rights of child victims

Right to recognition of vulnerability

Right to adapted procedures to address special needs

Right to be informed of the proceedings and the disposition

Right to have views, needs, and concerns presented and considered

Right to support services

Right to privacy and identity

Right to safety

Right to avoid unnecessary delay in the proceedings

Assistance in recovery

Best interests of the child is the primary consideration


Equal protection and benefit of the law for disabled

Recognition of women and girls with disabilities

Recognition of children with disabilities

Access to public services facilities

Right to life

Right to protection in situations of risk

Access to justice

Right to liberty and security

Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment/ punishment

Freedom from exploitation, violence, and abuse

Right to respect for physical and mental integrity

Right to liberty of movement and nationality

Right to live independently

Right to be included in the community

Right to personal mobility

Freedom of expression and opinion

Access to information

Right to privacy

Respect for home and the family

Right to education

Right to good health

Access to habilitation and rehabilitation services and programs

Right to work

Right to an adequate standard of living

Right to social protection

Freedom to participate in political and public life

Freedom to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport


Protection from enforced disappearance

Rights for individual who alleges enforced disappearance

Right to report facts to authorities

Right to protection

Protection from extradition to another State where danger of enforced disappearance exists

No secret detention

Right to information on deprivation of liberty

Right to privacy of personal information

Rights for victims of enforced disappearance

Right to the truth

Right to reparation and compensation

Right to form and participate in organizations that address enforced disappearance


N.B.: some of the rights in this list appear more than once; the reason is that they appear in multiple treaties.


How many books on human rights were published in the last month?

By “books on human rights” I mean books with “human rights” in the title. The answer is at least 27, the number offered by Amazon when I checked yesterday. Amazon also offers 1,270 books on human rights that were published in 2013; and 18,960 books on human rights in total. (A spot check indicates a small number of false positives but the search is also underinclusive since it is limited to books with “human rights” in the title.)

Amazon does not sell all books. WorldCat, a large collection of library catalogs, lists 6,516 human rights books from 2013, and 166,891 in total.

But there’s always room for one more.

The rise and rise of human rights scholarship in law reviews

hr articlesEveryone complains that law professors write too much about constitutional law, and not enough about areas of law that actually matter–antitrust, securities regulation, and criminal law. A similar complaint can be directed against international law scholars. On the evidence of the Westlaw database, international law scholars think that human rights deserve vastly more attention than (say) trade law or even the United Nations. In truth, human rights law is of limited practical importance in international relations, and virtually all of this literature–which nearly uniformly argues in favor of more human rights and stronger human rights institutions–will be ignored. If you want evidence that much of what academics do doesn’t matter, and that there is no mechanism for self-correction, see the graph above.