Disputation: Øyvind Stiansen

Øyvind Stiansen from the Department of Political Science and PluriCourts will defend his PhD thesis The Politics of Compliance with International Human Rights Court Judgments.

Portrait photo of Øyvind Stiansen
Photo: Laura Létourneau-Tremblay/PluriCourts

Trial lecture

Place: Gamle Festsal, Domus Academica

10.15 - 11.00 

Topic: The Impact and Effectiveness of International Human Rights Courts Beyond Compliance


Place: Gamle Festsal, Domus Academica

13.15 - 16.00


Disputation Chair


The Politics of Compliance with International Human Rights Court Judgments

Courts are playing increasingly important roles in both domestic and international politics. Yet, courts' political influence is limited by their reliance on other actors to give force to their judgments. The international human rights courts established in Europe and the Americans are important examples. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) provide redress for individual victims of human rights violations and rule on contentious political questions in the states subject to their jurisdiction. Yet, compliance depends on the politics of respondent states and is often slow and incomplete.

Stiansen's dissertation considers how compliance is influenced both by the politics of respondent states and by aspects of the judgments that influence their reception by domestic political actors. The dissertation comprises an introductory chapter and four articles each of which analyzes one particular aspect of compliance politics, using two original datasets of compliance with ECtHR and IACtHR rulings.

The first article considers how compliance with ECtHR judgments is influenced by need for legislative changes. Legislative changes can be crucial for implementing human rights obligations, but the need for such changes might influence compliance politics in two ways. First, ECtHR interference with the will of elected parliaments is controversial in several European states. Such controversy might increase the risk of defiance of judgments requiring legislative changes. Second, the greater number of veto players needed to pass legislative is likely to delay compliance. The empirical analysis shows that need for legislative changes tends to delay compliance, but without increasing the risk of long-term defiance. Delays associated with need for legislative changes are greater in states with greater numbers of ideologically diverse veto players, in states with a proportional electoral system, and in states without domestic judicial review.

Because judicial impact is limited by the reliance on other actors to implement judgments, an important question is whether and, if so, how courts can promote timely compliance. To address this question, the second article analyzes recent attempts by the ECtHR to promote timely compliance by indicating appropriate remedies in its rulings. Remedial indications may facilitate more effective implementation monitoring and enable pro-compliance actors to argue more forcefully that specific remedies are necessary. However, remedial indications also reduce the flexibility of the respondent state and may invite accusations of judicial overreach. In the article, Stiansen offers a novel empirical assessment of how judges' remedial strategy influences compliance. The empirical analysis shows that judgments with remedial indications are implemented at a quicker rate than comparable judgments without such indications. These results highlight the role judges can play in facilitating prompt compliance with their judgments.

The third article (co-authored with Daniel Naurin) investigates how compliance with ECtHR and IACtHR rulings is affected by visible dissent among the judges. Dissenting opinions may serve important functions in judicial decision making, including increasing the transparency and perhaps even the quality of court decisions. Yet, allowing dissent may also come with a price: Visible disagreement on the bench risks negatively affecting the authority of judicial decisions and may provide justifications for non-compliance. These effects of judicial dissent are particularly problematic for international courts that struggle with uncertain social legitimacy and low levels of state compliance. The empirical analysis shows that the likelihood of prompt compliance is lower for rulings affected by judicial dissent than for unanimous rulings. These findings have important implications both for questions relating to what courts can do to increase their effectiveness, and for understanding the conditions for effective international judicial protection of human rights.

The fourth and final article asks why politicians in respondent states sometimes choose to comply with unfavourable judgments even when they are offered few apparent benefits for doing so and the immediate costs of defiance appear minimal. It shows that the political-competition theory of judicial review provides one possible answer: Politicians that face electoral uncertainty might seek to preserve judicial constraints on future office holders by complying with adverse judgments. In line with this theoretical argument, the article shows that greater electoral uncertainty increases the likelihood of prompt compliance with ECtHR and IACtHR judgments

Tags: Human Rights
Published Apr. 29, 2019 12:58 PM - Last modified Mar. 24, 2021 3:19 PM