Vanderbilt Law Review


Uta Oberdorster

First Page



n December 18, 1990, the United Nations ("UN") General Assembly approved the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families ("Migrant Convention"). Several years later, international non-governmental organizations ("NGOs") initiated a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the Migrant Convention. Thirteen member organizations continue this campaign today, including Human Rights Watch, International Labour Office, and Amnesty International. The Mexican government and the UN generously funded the campaign for many years, and campaign members worked hard to produce campaign materials, organize awareness raising events, and release press statements. Despite these efforts, the Migrant Convention did not enter into force until thirteen years after its adoption, and to date, only thirty-seven countries have ratified it. The global ratification campaign for the Migrant Convention has failed to achieve its goal of universal ratification.

In contrast, another human rights convention adopted by the UN just one year before the Migrant Convention underwent rapid and widespread ratification. On November 20, 1989, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child ("CRC"). Just ten months later, the CRC entered into force. To date, all 193 UN member states except Somalia and the United States have ratified the Convention. As a tribute to the CRC's success, in May 2000 the UN General Assembly adopted an Optional Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This Optional Protocol came into force on February 12, 2002, with the help of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, a global campaign that lobbies governments to agree to international laws prohibiting the use of children in armed conflict.' Several member organizations of the Coalition overlap with members of the Migrant Convention campaign, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Yet, unlike the Migrant campaign, the Coalition has succeeded in achieving widespread ratification of the Optional Protocol. As of early 2007, 110 countries had ratified the Protocol. The Migrant Convention and CRC underwent different ratification patterns. The Migrant Convention was slow to enter into force, and few countries ratified it. The CRC, however, entered into force within a year, and all but two UN member states have ratified it. The Optional Protocol to the CRC, though implemented later, also enjoyed quick and widespread ratification. Why did the international community respond so differently to the two conventions? Both were adopted by the UN within the same year, both are human rights treaties, and both were supported by NGO-driven ratification campaigns. What factors account for the disparity in their ratification rates?

This Note explores this question by examining a series of treaties that quickly entered into force and finds that certain features of treaty ratification campaigns determine their success in achieving broad ratification. Examining these features yields important insights into state behavior. Studying both the shared characteristics of successful ratification campaigns and the aspects of treaties that make them attractive candidates for ratification reveals the reasons that states decide to accept legally binding obligations voluntarily. These insights expose the strengths and weaknesses of the three generally accepted theories of state behavior: rationalism, constructivism, and liberalism. This Note concludes that while the three theories of state behavior can explain the characteristics of successful ratification campaigns alone, a complete picture of state behavior emerges only when applying all three theories together. Thus, an integrated theory is needed to best describe state behavior within the context of treaty ratification.