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A recent opinion piece in the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique makes passing reference to the idea that the United States "has ratified only five of the 18 international human rights treaties."

That seems a little low, and possibly outdated. Does anyone know of a more official source that can confirm this?

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  • Questions need to have a notable claim and source that claim properly in order to be considered on topic. Saying you raid something isn't enough and you need to link to the sources so that others can verify the claim. In addition some basic research should be done and it appears that the answer was easily findable as you answered your own question in about 10 minutes.
    – Joe W
    May 19 at 19:24
  • Thanks, Joe. I've added a link.
    – Patrick
    May 19 at 19:31
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    Note that this sounds worse than it is because signing treaties is not as important as actually complying with them. For example, despite signing treaties against torture, they are still actively using it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantanamo_Bay_detention_camp & en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_black_sites
    – Gantendo
    May 20 at 6:16
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    @Gantendo Sounds worse than it is? Doesn't your example show exactly the opposite? It is even worse than it sounds since despite signing and ratifying the convention against torture they are actively using it.
    – Simon
    May 20 at 8:55
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    If a country promises to stop doing something, and then continues to do it, it makes their promise worthless and I wouldn't believe in (or care about) any future promises.
    – Gantendo
    May 20 at 14:56

3 Answers 3

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The claim is true.

The UN Treaty Body Database has a drop-down selection for United States of America.
This shows that USA has signed 9 treaties, but ratified only 5 of them.

Treaty Signature Date Ratification Date
CAT - Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 18 Apr 1988 21 Oct 1994
CAT-OP - Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture
CCPR - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 05 Oct 1977 08 Jun 1992
CCPR-OP2-DP - Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming to the abolition of the death penalty
CED - Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
CED, Art.32 - Interstate communication procedure under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
CEDAW - Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 17 Jul 1980
CERD - International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 28 Sep 1966 21 Oct 1994
CESCR - International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 05 Oct 1977
CMW - International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
CRC - Convention on the Rights of the Child 16 Feb 1995
CRC-OP-AC - Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict 05 Jul 2000 23 Dec 2002
CRC-OP-SC - Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children child prostitution and child pornography 05 Jul 2000 23 Dec 2002
CRPD - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 30 Jul 2009

The website is published by The UN Human Rights Office.

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  • 15
    The claim is that the U.S. has ratified only 5 of 18 treaties. The data table presented indicates that the U.S. has ratified only 5 of the 14 treaties listed. If that treaty list is accepted as the appropriate one against which to check the claim, then the claim is only partly true. May 20 at 12:49
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    @JohnBollinger Sounds like Le Monde is using a more general definition of human rights treaties than the UN's list. But then we need to know what the other 4 are, so we can confirm whether the US ratified any.
    – Barmar
    May 20 at 13:28
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    @JohnBollinger the UN states there are 9 'core treaties' here but lists 18 treaties. IDK the distinctinctions between treaties, core treaties, sub-treaties etc., why they list some and not others. I showed what UN says have been ratified. If USA has signed 9 treaties, perhaps they are the 'core treaties'. May 20 at 14:08
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    @WeatherVane Patrick's answer tells you where to find the "missing" four. May 20 at 15:05
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    @JohnBollinger if you mean disingenuous of Le Monde then I thought so too; a "how bad is that" story will always compare the smallest it can find with the largest. Although the map linked by Patrick's answer does show that many countries have ratified all 18 treaties. Well done for counting, I knew I had only listed 14 and waited to see the reaction. May 20 at 17:48
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The currently accepted answer includes a table that states the United States has ratified 5 of 14 (not 18) international human rights treaties. This answer is intended to provide some context on the 14 versus 18 aspect of the question.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) considers there to be 9 core international human rights instruments:

  1. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1965)
  2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966)
  3. International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966)
  4. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979)
  5. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT, 1984)
  6. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989)
  7. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW, 1990)
  8. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED, 2006)
  9. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, 2006)

(The United States has signed 7 and ratified 3 of these 9 core treaties.)

In addition, there are 9 optional protocols associated with these instruments:

  1. Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP1, 1966)
  2. Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2, 1989)
  3. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW, 1999)
  4. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OP-CRC-AC, 2000)
  5. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OP-CRC-SC, 2000)
  6. Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT, 2002)
  7. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OP-CRPD, 2006)
  8. Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR-OP, 2008)
  9. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure (OP-CRC-IC, 2014)

(The United States has signed 2 and ratified 2 of these optional protocols.)

These 9+9=18 instruments are presumably "the 18 international human rights treaties" referenced in the question.

The 14 treaties mentioned elsewhere include the 9 core treaties, 4 of the optional protocols, and 1 more not included above:

  1. Interstate communication procedure under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED Art.32, 2010)

Some other lists online also include instruments such as HURIDOCS, OMCT, ICSPCA, CRSR, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, CPPCG, and ILO.

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    Some ideas why the US didnt sign the optional treaties? May 20 at 16:50
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    @LifeInTheTrees I guess the reasons will vary, but on some they did not sign the underlying treaty in the first place, some like the one on abolition of the death penalty are kind of obvious and I think several of the others establish some form of international jurisdiction regarding the subject, something which US politics only seems to believe in if it is sure that they will be winning all their cases.
    – mlk
    May 21 at 19:54
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    @LifeInTheTrees: A full answer would be out of scope here (ask on Politics.SE), but in short, the US likes its sovereignty and distrusts the UN.
    – Kevin
    May 21 at 22:37
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Found it. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner, the number is indeed 5.

https://indicators.ohchr.org/

Of the "orange" countries I hovered over on the map, only two -- Myanmar and Iran -- were close to being that low, with 6 ratified human rights treaties per country.

====

EDIT #1: Malaysia also has 5.

EDIT #2: There's also a "red" category, but no sizeable countries appear to be in it.

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    The linked page is dated 2014 at the bottom. May 19 at 19:26
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    It's not exactly a good look when North Korea has ratified more human rights treaties (6) than a given country.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 20 at 5:58
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    @WeatherVane The copyright date likely tells little about the data itself, it's a generic footer for the whole website (and nobody probably considered it important enough to keep bumping it every year). The "Metadata" PDF on the page lists 02 August 2020 as the "Last updated" date, which might be more relevant. Anyway, as your answer shows, nothing has really changed wrt the US since 2014.
    – TooTea
    May 20 at 9:42
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    @TooTea Technically, if the only alteration made to a document is updating information in a table, the new document is not separately copyrightable from the original, since it is not distinct in its copyrightable aspects, so it would be incorrect to indicate a new copyright date.
    – Andrew Ray
    May 20 at 17:57
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    @Obie2.0 actually, its the opposite. North Korea signing "human rights" documents goes to show that these treaties are toothless and it doesn't matter who did or did not sign them. May 20 at 20:55

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