Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights
alignment in intergovernmental organizations
David Benjamin Weyrauch
&Christoph Valentin Steinert
Why do states’human rights records converge with co-members in intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs)? This study provides new insights on whetherinteractions in IGOs
have the capacity to genuinely transform state preferences or whether norm diffusion is a
consequence of instrumental processes. We leverage information about the timing of
human rights alignment to disentangle intrinsic from instrumental motives. We hypoth-
esize that instrumental motives find expression in pre-membership alignment and
reversions to original normative standards after IGO exits. Intrinsic motives lead to
gradual alignment during IGO membership and result in stable normative changes
beyond IGO exits. Using varying-slopes, varying intercepts models, we investigate
the distance on human rights indices between individual states and IGO means. While
we find evidence for systematic convergence during IGO membership, no significant
changes occur before and after IGO membership. Testing alignment of different phys-
ical integrity rights, we find no evidence for instrumental shifts to clandestine repression
during IGO membership. Overall, the results suggest that norm alignment in IGOs is at
least not exclusively instrumentally motivated. Our findings support constructivist
arguments on state interests and suggest that IGOs are capable of transforming states’
human rights related preferences.
Responsible editor: Axel Dreher
Both authors contributed equally to all parts. Both contributed approximately 50% of the research design, 50%
of the quantitative analysis and drafted approximately 50% of the prose. The order of authors does not reflect
the significance of authors’contributions but was decided via coin toss.
*David Benjamin Weyrauch
Department of Political Science II, European Politics, University of Mannheim, A5, 6 Room 351,
Department of Political Science IV, University of Mannheim, A5, 6 B124, 68159 Mannheim,
The Review of International Organizations (2022) 17:89–115
Accepted: 7 January 2021/
#The Author(s) 2021
Published online: 1 June 2021
Keywords Intergovernmental organizations .Human rights .Norm diffusion .
Socialization .Strategic repression
Constructivism has greatly enriched the scholarly understanding of political processes
by emphasizing that state interests are no fixed entities but fundamentally shaped by the
types of interactions that states are involved in (e.g., Klotz, 1995; Wendt, 1999).
Building on this premise, recent research has demonstrated that intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs) provide forums for the transmission of human rights norms
Empirically, these studies identify a strong correlation be-
tween the human rights records of a country’s fellow IGO members and a state’sown
human rights performance in subsequent periods. This finding is primarily explained by
socializing effects pointing to the transmission of group norms to individual states
through repeated interactions.
While appreciating their substantial contribution to our understanding of the global
diffusion of human rights norms, we contend that these studies lack clarity when it
comes to the causal mechanisms driving human rights alignment in IGOs. Two
opposing mechanisms are potentially at play: states could alter their repressive outputs
in order to conform to prevalent group norms and to derive benefits from membership
(instrumental norm alignment).
Alternatively, states could internalize different norms
as a consequence of their repeated interaction with other states resulting in genuine
preference transformation (intrinsic norm alignment). At this stage, empirical scholar-
ship is unable to answer the question of why states adapt their human rights records as
members of IGOs.
We argue that the timing of norm convergence contains valuable insights into the
underlying motives for human rights alignment. Our key argument is that instrumental
and intrinsic mechanisms materialize at different points in time. We argue that instru-
mental motives result in immediate alignment processes at the time of IGO accession
whereas norm internalization is a gradual process evolving during the time of IGO
membership. Hence, the length of IGO membership is expected to be systematically
related to norm alignment in the case of intrinsic motives for human rights alignment.
We further suggest that post-membership human rights records enable us to draw
inferences about the genuineness of norm adaption. If states’post-membership human
rights records revert to pre-accession levels, norm alignment was likely instrumentally
motivated. In contrast, if human rights records change during the time of membership
and remain close to IGO averages beyond, norm adoption is likely intrinsically
We apply the standard definition of intergovernmental organizations capturing formal organizations
consisting of at least three states that hold regular plenary sessions and that possess a permanent secretariat
(Pevehouse et al., 2004).
Goodman and Jinks (2013) differentiate between material pressures for norm alignment, termed as ‘induce-
ment’, and social pressures for norm alignment, labeled as ‘acculturation’. We focus solely on the intrinsic vs.
instrumental dichotomy disregarding differences between materially induced and socially induced instrumen-
90 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
Furthermore, we exploit information about the type of physical integrity rights
violations committed by states to investigate the causal mechanisms underlying norm
Physical integrity rights violations differ in their level of intensity and,
consequently, in the associated reputation costs (e.g., Greitens, 2016; Hafner-Burton,
2008). In response, states have strategically altered their repressive mix to avoid
sanctions. Disappearances are more difficult to link to the government than other
human rights violations since perpetrators tend to remain hidden. Kinzelbach and
Spannagel (n.d.), highlight, for instance, how Argentina shifted in the 1970s from
political imprisonments to disappearances in light of international pressure for the
release of political prisoners. Against this backdrop, we assume that instrumental norm
adaption in IGOs leads governments to shift to clandestine physical integrity rights
violations that are less attributable to the state (Payne and Abouharb, 2016). In contrast,
states that internalize human rights norms improve their records consistently across
different types of physical integrity rights violations.
We find that new member states’human rights scores systematically align with IGO
means during IGO membership. The longer states are members of IGOs, the closer
their human rights scores align with group averages. In line with the instrumental logic,
we find weak evidence for pre-membership alignment. However, in contradiction of
the instrumental logic, states tend to keep altered human rights standards when they exit
IGOs instead of reverting to pre-accession levels. By studying different types of
physical integrity rights violations, we also find no evidence that states strategically
shift to repression that is less attributable to governments. Most notably, respect
for the right not to be disappeared systematically aligns with group standards
over the time of IGO membership. Overall, our results suggest that human
rights alignment in IGOs is at least not exclusively driven by instrumental
motives as suggested by prior research (Greenhill, 2010; Greenhill, 2016). In
contrast, the findings suggest that interactions in IGOs might result in genuine
preference transformation in the context of human rights.
Our findings hold across a wide range of IGOs with different policy scopes and with
varying degrees of authority. We demonstrate that the alignment effect is not driven by
the subset of human rights IGOs but shaped by the average human rights norms of the
respective member states in an IGO. We contribute to the norm diffusion literature by
providing a new perspective on the mechanisms driving norm alignment (e.g., Bearce
and Bondanella, 2007; Gilardi and Wasserfallen, 2019; Taninchev, 2015). Specifically,
we contribute to the body of scholarship dedicated to the alignment of human rights
norms in IGOs (Greenhill, 2010;Greenhill,2016; Lindemann and Petiteville, 2019).
We also contribute to the literature dedicated to the effectiveness of external means to
promote human rights (e.g., Donno and Neureiter, 2018;KelleyandSimmons,2015;
Terman and Voeten, 2018). We show that co-membership in IGOs provides an
important channel to affect human rights practices of other states and that new
normative contents might be transmitted through repeated interactions.
This article proceeds as follows: first, we discuss previous research on human rights
alignment in IGOs. Second, we present our theoretical framework explaining the logic
underlying human rights alignment in IGOs. Third, we introduce our empirical strategy
Physical integrity rights violations are a subset of human rights violations including the right not be tortured,
to be disappeared, extra-judicially killed, or imprisoned for political beliefs (Cingranelli et al., 2014).
91Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
exploiting both the timing and duration of IGO membership and information about the
type of physical integrity rights violation to disentangle instrumental and intrinsic
motives for norm alignment in IGOs. Fourth, we introduce our empirical models
accounting for the hierarchical data structure by controlling for state and IGO
characteristics. Lastly, we discuss the empirical findings and elaborate on the
limitations of our study.
2 Norm alignment in intergovernmental organizations
The social network perspective on state interests, which emphasizes interactions in
IGOs, has a long scholarly tradition. Finnemore (1993) famously described interna-
tional organizations as “teachers of norms”and the “world society”-school claims that
international organization socialize states into a universal set of norms (Boli and
Thomas, 1999; Beckfield, 2003; Meyer et al., 1997).
studies is that international norms diffuse into domestic politics through repeated
interactions of state representatives in IGOs. State representatives exchange ideas,
obtain new information, and develop a sense of cohesion and loyalty to colleagues in
IGOs (Chelotti et al., 2018).
As a consequence, membership in IGOs leads to a
convergence in states’policy preferences (Bearce and Bondanella, 2007; Cao, 2009;
Checkel, 2005;Chelottietal.,2018). Reflecting a logic of appropriateness (March and
Olsen, 1998), these convergence processes have been explained with social pressure
(Goodman and Jinks, 2013), concerns for prestige (Paul et al., 2014), or desires for
conformity (Johnston, 2001). Others contend that norm diffusion processes genuinely
shape state interests emphasizing mechanisms of teaching and persuasion (Gheciu,
2005; Lewis, 2005).
While IGO-driven convergence processes have been studied in several policy areas
such as domestic economic policies (Cao, 2009), public-sector downsizing (Lee and
Strang, 2006), or economic liberalism (Simmons et al., 2006), scholars have only
recently turned to human rights norms. Greenhill pioneered this field of research with
a foundational article in 2010 and a more extensive analysis of his theory in his 2016
monograph. His key findings are that IGO networks provide a conduit for the diffusion
of human rights norms leading to convergence processes over time. The impact of
IGOs goes beyond their formal mandates since diffusion processes are not sensitive to
the mandate of IGOs. More specifically, Greenhill discovers that the convergence effect
is not only restricted to those IGOs with a direct connection to human rights issues. He
explains this finding with pressures for social conformity in IGOs leading states to
strategically adapt their human rights records to group standards.
While appreciating Greenhill’s substantial contribution to our understanding of
human rights alignment in IGOs, we contend that his analysis is unable to explain
whether intrinsic or instrumental motives lead states to align their human rights records
These studies tend to use the term “international organization”instead of “international governmental
organizations”including also non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations. We stick to
the term IGOs because direct encounters of government representatives are most likely to have an impact on
Lewis (2005) provides a powerful illustration of this mechanism using the example of the EU’s Committee
of Permanent Representatives.
92 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
with co-members in IGOs. Greenhill suggests that intrinsic motives would imply that
norm alignment is stronger in the subset of IGOs specifically dedicated to human
That is, because human rights IGOs (e.g. UN Human Rights Council) are more
likely to shape human rights related preferences. Since he finds no evidence for
stronger alignment processes in human rights IGOs, he rejects intrinsic motives as
drivers of norm alignment. However, this test cannot convince since it is likely that
group pressure related to human rights violations is also stronger in the subset of IGOs
specifically dedicated to human rights. In other words, while human rights IGOs might
be more likely to shape human rights-related preferences, they also make human rights
violations more salient leading to enhanced human rights-related group pressure. Thus,
it is unclear whether his finding refutes the intrinsic or the instrumental logic. Hence,
we argue that a subgroup analysis of human rights IGOs offers no compelling evidence
for the underlying motives of norm convergence across IGOs.
Furthermore, Greenhill (2010,2016) argues that policy learning is less relevant in
the realm of physical integrity rights since a lack of information is unlikely to be
responsible for violations of these rights. However, given that weak state organization
characterized by agency slack have been identified as a key driver of human rights
abuse (Butler et al., 2007; Hafner-Burton, 2014), we deem information-sharing with
regard to effective capacity-building as essential in shaping human rights compliance.
For instance, it has been shown that effective security sector reforms contribute to
improved human rights records (e.g., Holm and Eide, 2000). Beyond that, we argue
that it is problematic to reduce non-instrumental motives for norm alignment entirely to
information-sharing. As Greenhill conceives persuasion himself as a process involving
a“genuine change in [states’]beliefs”(p. 44), it includes more complex dynamics such
as the diffusion of values and the transformation of preferences.
All things considered, we argue that it remains unclear why convergence processes
of human rights norms take place in IGOs. In the following, we first present our
theoretical framework depicting IGOs as social environments. Subsequently, we intro-
duce our new empirical approaches to disentangle the mechanisms of instrumental and
intrinsic norm alignment in IGOs.
3 Intergovernmental organizations as social environments
We consider intergovernmental organizations as social environments that create chan-
nels of international influence (see Goodman and Jinks, 2013). Beyond their formal
purposes, IGOs are venues of social interaction and international exchange. Building
on Greenhill’s(2016)‘three-stage model of social influence in IGOs’, we argue that
there is a reciprocal influence between IGOs and states. Individual states shape the
social environment of IGOs and at the same time, they are affected by this environment
themselves. In the following sections, we explain the key steps in the causal chain
explaining the impact of IGOs on states: (1) IGOs develop ‘human rights cultures’,(2)
We use the term instrumental norm alignment to capture both social conformity pressures (acculturation) and
material conformity pressures (inducement) and intrinsic norm alignment to describe the mechanism termed
‘persuasion’in Greenhill’s study (see Greenhill, 2016; Goodman and Jinks, 2013).
93Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
states are subject to different alignment pressures in IGOs, and (3) preferences in IGOs
shape domestic policy preferences.
3.1 ‘Human rights cultures’in IGOs
IGOs are created to promote international cooperation and standard-setting in diverse
policy fields (Hooghe and Marks, 2015). To fulfil these goals, IGOs provide physical
spaces where state representatives can come together, deliberate, and compromise.
While the key objective of these encounters is defined by the policy scope of the
IGO, we argue that these encounters cannot be reduced to technical decisions about
pre-defined topics. The deliberation of common policies in IGOs is a profoundly social
process that relies on sharing ideas, on persuading and conceding, and on forming
Representatives, engaging in IGOs, are deeply aware of the social nature of policy-
making. Therefore, they place a strong emphasis on forming networks and establishing
social ties. Official deliberations in IGOs are complemented by various social events
and informal meetings (Greenhill, 2016). By repeatedly interacting in different social
settings, state representatives tend to develop a sense of cohesion and loyalty to other
group members (Hofstede, 2004). Such social ties might be deemed especially valuable
during shared expatriate experiences at the headquarters of IGOs that are far from home
for the majority of state representatives.
Social ties between individuals tend to form around some form of shared identity
(Kossinets and Watts, 2009). The combination of national institutions, history, and
social environments shape the identities of states and, by association, of their diplomats.
Human rights norms are likely to lie at the core of these identities. Various states
perceive human rights norms as ‘universal’or ‘unalienable’principles that form the
backbone of their constitutional laws. Role theory describes how such national identi-
ties may affect social interactions in international relations (Harnisch et al., 2011).
Hence, it is plausible that human rights norms, as key elements of state identities, affect
the social interactions of states. In practical terms, state representatives are likely to
form social ties with other diplomats that share a core set of principles and ideas.
However, they might be hesitant to form ties with representatives of states that tolerate
torture or arbitrary killings.
Based on these insights, it has been argued that IGOs develop their own ‘human
rights cultures’(see Greenhill, 2016). These IGO-specific human rights cultures reflect
the aggregate views on human rights norms of all member states in an IGO. Thus, not
the policy scope of an IGO but the aggregate norms of its group members are
constitutive for its human rights culture. For instance, major human rights organizations
such as the UN Human Rights Council may have comparatively weak human rights
cultures given that various human rights abusers are among its members (Freedman and
Houghton, 2017). In contrast, an IGO that is unrelated to human rights such as the
International Organisation of Vine and Wine might have a stronger human rights
culture given that its members have comparatively positive human rights records.
While member states shape the human rights culture of IGOs, human rights cultures
likewise affect individual states. Greenhill’s(2016) study provides powerful evidence
that the human rights norms of states converge with co-members in IGOs. He demon-
strates that alignment patterns are unrelated to the policy scopes of IGOs but driven by
94 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
the aggregate human rights norms of their group members. States tend to align with the
prevailing human rights norms in IGOs constituted of the average human rights scores
of their member states. Two different types of group influence could explain this
3.2 Two types of group influence
States could align their human rights records with co-members in IGOs due to
instrumental or intrinsic motives.
Instrumental norm alignment describes the strategic adaption to prevalent group
norms in response to social or material incentives. States could have incentives to align
with prevalent human rights norms since co-members in IGOs might link cooperation
on specific policy issues to improved human rights records. Issue-linkage has been
demonstrated to be a powerful tool of inter-state influence (e.g., Haas, 1980; McGinnis,
1986). States might derive material benefits from standard-setting in IGOs that aligns
with their favored policy positions. Hence, it might be strategically beneficial to adapt
to prevalent human rights norms if compliance is linked to desired policy outputs.
Further, instrumental alignment could be driven by social pressure. States are
generally susceptible to group pressure since they value status and prestige (see Paul
et al., 2014).
IGOs provide a social environment where group pressure is especially
salient (Greenhill, 2016; Johnston, 2001). Co-membership in IGOs gives states a
platform to express their discontent over norm violations and allows them to form
alliances against pariah states.
Representatives of human rights abusing states must
bear the immediate social cost of international contempt. In response, state representa-
tives might have incentives to mimic their social environment driven by the desire to
“fit it”(Turner et al., 1987). Previous research suggests that human rights alignment in
IGOs is primarily the product of such instrumental motives (see Greenhill, 2010;
Alternatively, norm alignment in IGOs could be driven by intrinsic processes.
Intrinsic norm alignment occurs when actors redefine their interests and identities in
line with prevalent group norms (see Goodman and Jinks, 2013). The precondition for
intrinsic norm alignment is the spread of norms through repeated interactions between
actors (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). However, norm exposure does not necessarily
translate into norm internalization. Norm internalization occurs only if norm receivers
start to sincerely believe in the intrinsic value of transmitted norms. Therefore, the
substantive content of norms is decisive in the case of intrinsic norm alignment.
Since intrinsic norm alignment relies on the practice of deliberation, IGOs provide
an ideal setting for this process (see Risse, 2000). Intrinsic alignment is most likely to
occur when IGOs make an explicit effort to educate their members. For instance,
Gheciu’s(2005) study describes how the NATO educated elites from new member
states which led to long-lasting policy changes even after the membership conditions
On the reverse side, state policies might be subject to public shaming (DeMeritt, 2012; Kelley and Simmons,
Dorussen and Hard (2008) demonstrate how the IGO network provides communication channels between
states allowing them to intervene more effectively in state affairs.
The process of intrinsic alignment reflects fundamental insights of constructivist scholarship (e.g. Keck and
Sikkink, 2014; Tannenwald, 2007).
95Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
were fulfilled. Intrinsic alignment may also occur beyond institutionalized platforms
resulting from day-to-day interactions between state representatives. While it may be at
times the product of extensive deliberation processes, it might also occur from self-
reflection in light of an external reference point.
Further, intrinsic norm alignment includes learning processes of effective means to
promote certain norms. As members of IGOs, state representatives might learn about
effective policies to promote human rights leading to a redefinition of their policy
preferences. For instance, co-members in IGOs might share intelligence on effective
security sector reforms that enhance human rights (e.g., Holm and Eide, 2000). If the
acquired knowledge of such policies leads to redefined policy preferences, norm
alignment is intrinsically motivated.
To summarize, instrumental norm alignment is strategic in nature being agnostic to
the substantive contents of group norms. Actors seek to conform for the sake of
deriving benefits from group membership and not because of their inherent
appreciation of specific norms.
In contrast, intrinsic norm alignment captures the
genuine endorsement of new normative contests leading to a redefinition of state
preferences and identities.
3.3 The impact of transmitted norms on domestic policies
Finally, updated preferences of state representatives in IGOs must affect domestic
policy-making to shape states’human rights records. This is the final link in the causal
chain between human rights cultures in IGOs and national human rights records. The
link is straightforward in the case of strategic (instrumental) alignment in response to
issue-linkage. State representatives will communicate the conditions of favored policy
compromises to policy-makers that decide whether to align their policies accordingly.
Three mechanisms could explain how intrinsic norm alignment processes in IGOs could
shape domestic policy-making (see Greenhill 2010,2016). First, state representatives with
altered preferences might seek to convince their policy-makers to adopt different policies.
Second, there are various examples of state representatives that become policy-makers
themselves at later stages of their careers. Third, several policy-makers directly attend
IGO meetings leading to direct impacts on their policy preferences.
4 Disentangling instrumental and intrinsic motives
How can we identify which of those two mechanisms - instrumental or intrinsic norm
alignment is decisive for norm convergence in IGOs? In practice, the boundary lines are far
from clear-cut. States might be motivated by an interplay of instrumental and intrinsic
motives when adapting to prevalent standards in IGOs. Adding further complexity, it might
be the case that states are originally motivated by instrumental motives but begin to
internalize norms over time. Officially stated motives are likely to deviate from actual
Reflecting this instrumental motive, Goodman and Jinks (2013) describe this process also as “incomplete
A detailed discussion of these micro-level processes goes beyond the scope of our study and can be found in
96 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
motivations. State representatives might publicly convey a rhetoric of norm endorsement
while being motivated by instrumental motives. Being aware of these difficulties, we seek to
disentangle the respective impact of those mechanisms by leveraging information about the
timing of norm alignment and strategic shifts of the types of human rights violations.
4.1 Exploiting the timing of norm convergence
First, we argue that motives for norm convergence can be identified by studying the
timing of norm convergence. The underlying assumption is that instrumental and
intrinsic mechanisms materialize at different points in time. The idea to leverage the
timing of norm convergence has been applied in different contexts such as in research
about the protection of labor rights (Kim, 2012) or the signing of international treaties
(von Stein, 2005). Building on these studies, we distinguish between norm convergence
(a) prior to IGO accession, norm convergence (b) during IGO membership, and the
development of normative standards (c) after IGO exit to draw inferences about the
impact of instrumental and intrinsic motives on norm alignment.
(a) Beginning with the time prior to IGO membership, we argue that systematic
norm convergence shortly before membership is indicative of instrumental motives.
States might instrumentally adapt their human rights records to enhance their chances
to be admitted to an IGO. This process could occur voluntarily or due to formal
conditionality requirements. For instance, states might strategically adapt their domestic
policies in the realm of human rights to be admitted to IGOs. Membership in IGOs
could be linked to diverse material benefits such as access to markets or influence on
standard-setting. If the anticipated material benefits of cooperation are the underlying
motivation for human rights improvement, norm alignment is driven by instrumental
In contrast, we argue that sudden norm alignment in the pre-membership phase is
unlikely to be driven by intrinsic motives. Certainly, norm diffusion also takes place
outside of IGOs (Gilardi, 2016; Volden et al., 2008). However, it is implausible that
such general diffusion processes between states systematically increase shortly before
IGO accession. Further, it has been shown that norm diffusion in IGOs goes beyond
general regular norm diffusion between states (Freyburg, 2015). It could be objected
that intrinsic norm alignment before accession leads states to self-select into IGOs with
similar normative standards. However, it has been demonstrated that IGOs tend to form
on a regional basis and not due to self-selection related to human rights standards (see
Greenhill, 2016). Consequently, we argue that sudden norm convergence in the
immediate run-up to IGO membership is indicative of instrumental motives. Building
on these insights, we test the impact of instrumental motives on norm alignment with
the following hypothesis:
H1:States adapt their human rights records to group standards shortly before
joining an intergovernmental organization.
(b) Both mechanisms are likely at play during IGO membership. States could adjust
their human rights records for instrumental motives to reduce group pressure and evade
the risk of expulsion. States could also align their human rights records for intrinsic
motives as a product of repeated interactions with other group members. Hence, both
97Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
motives are expected to be observationally equivalent if membership is regarded in its
entirety. Therefore, we suggest a dynamic perspective on the time of membership
focusing on the pace of norm alignment.
Given that normative standards and identities are characterized by a certain degree of
stability, we expect intrinsic alignment processes to evolve gradually over the course of
membership time. As implied by the influential ‘norm cascade’(Finnemore and
Sikkink, 1998), actors must be confronted with new normative contents over a
prolonged time involving demonstration and persuasion processes before these
contents might be internalized. Weyland (2012)statesthat“new values and principles
do not diffuse instantaneously, persuasion takes time”(p. 919). Prior research also
demonstrated that persuasion is enhanced in targeted, structured, and interpersonal
settings such as IGOs (Freyburg, 2015). Hence, we expect, on average, gradually
increasing alignment during IGO membership in the case of intrinsic alignment. In
contrast, we would expect immediate norm convergence and no systematic trends over
membership time in the case of instrumental alignment. Against this backdrop, we
suggest the following observable implication of intrinsically motivated norm align-
H2:The longer states are members of intergovernmental organizations, the closer
their human rights record align with the average of the other members.
(c) We further argue that human rights records after IGO exits are telling for the
genuineness of norm adoption. More specifically, we contend that intrinsic norm
diffusion leaves a visible trace beyond the membership time. That is because if states
adopt group norms due to intrinsic commitments, it is unlikely that they abandon these
norms once membership is terminated. The same applies if intrinsic alignment operates
through a learning-mechanism resulting in superior levels of expertise about effective
human rights policies. States are unlikely to jettison their acquired knowledge once
IGO membership is terminated. Therefore, we expect that intrinsically motivated norm
alignment creates a normative legacy being reflected in stable human rights records
after IGO exists. If norm adaption was primarily driven by instrumental reasons, we
would expect that states diverge from group norms once the incentives for alignment
More specifically, we would expect a state to revert to its original human
rights record before the IGO might have exerted influence on its norms. We test the
instrumental logic with the following hypothesis:
H3:States return to their pre-membership human rights records after IGO exits.
The theoretical expectations are summarized in Fig. 1. While the stylized pathways
suggest two clearly delimited processes, it is important to emphasize that the pathways
IGO exits result from self-selection dynamics that likely reflect substantial disagreements with remaining
members. If a state leaves to escape IGO policy constraints, it might be likely to use its newly-gained
independence to increase policy distance (e.g., the UK could be expected to de-regulate its economy in the
case of Brexit). This biases the setup in favor of instrumental alignment. Conversely, the absence of distance
increases after exits offers a strong case for intrinsic norm alignment.
98 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
are neither mutually exclusive nor deterministic. It might be the case that alignment was
originally a product of instrumental reasons transforming into intrinsic norm adoption
over time. We further acknowledge that motives for convergence are unlikely to be
purely instrumental or intrinsic but rather a mixture of both. Being aware of these
caveats, we suggest that the timing of norm alignment across IGOs provides suggestive
evidence about which type of motive dominates. To enhance the credibility of our
findings, we further leverage information about the types of physical integrity rights
4.2 Strategic shifts to ‘clandestine’repression
Governments make strategic decisions about the repressive tools they use to forward
their goals (see Tilly, 2003). To avoid reputation costs, governments strategically use
certain types of human rights violations to offset restraint on other repressive means
(Hafner-Burton, 2008). Yet, previous studies of human rights alignment utilize an
aggregate measure of physical integrity violations including extrajudicial killings,
torture, political imprisonments, and disappearances to study human rights alignment
This additive index is drawn from the Cingranelli & Richards Human Rights
Data Project and assigns equal weight to each physical integrity right violation
(Cingranelli et al., 2014). The underlying assumption is that they are equally costly
in terms of human rights shaming.
Drawing on the human rights literature, we argue that this assumption is problem-
atic. Political imprisonments are associated with high reputation costs as they are
frequently perceived to be the direct result of deliberate policy choices of governments
(Bell et al., 2013; Bell and Chernykh, 2019). In contrast, it has been argued that
Fig. 1 Stylized pathways of new IGO members’human rights records. The Figure refers only to the subset of
states that are originally more repressive than IGO means. We also focus on this subset of states in our
Physical integrity rights are a subset of civil and political human rights, also called first-generation human
rights, as protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
99Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
disappearances are less costly for governments since it is more difficult to tie them to
the regime (Payne and Abouharb, 2016).
Disappearances allow governments to reduce accountability since their secret nature
makes it difficult to identify the perpetrators. In several cases disappearances have been
blamed on organized crime even though governments had been involved (see Muñoz,
2011). This illustrates that repressive governments have incentives to strategically shift
to disappearances when they fear external pressure. Kinzelbach and Spannagel (n.d.)
highlight, for instance, how Argentina’s repressive apparatus shifted in the 1970s from
political imprisonments to disappearances in light of international pressure for the
release of political prisoners.
Against this backdrop, we argue that human rights alignment in IGOs might come at
the expense of rising disappearances if it is instrumentally motivated. Superior repres-
sive records might obscure a strategic shift from salient violence to clandestine
violence. Such a substitution might allow governments to balance strategic interests
in repression with instrumentally motivated norm alignment. If human rights alignment
derives from intrinsic motives, governments have no reason to prioritize certain
physical integrity violations over others. Therefore, we expect consistent reductions
of physical integrity rights violations instead of systematic substitution dynamics.
Within this context, we argue that increases in disappearances suggest instrumental
norm alignment in IGOs, whereas an improvement across all types of physical integrity
rights violations would cast doubts upon a mechanism reliant on strategic motives. We
test instrumental norm alignment with the following hypothesis:
H4:If states align human rights norms for instrumental reasons, we expect
increased levels of disappearances.
To summarize, we expect that instrumental motives find expression in norm alignment
shortly before IGO membership, in reversion processes once IGO membership is
terminated, and in strategic shifts toward disappearances. Intrinsic motives are expected
to be reflected in gradual norm convergence over the time of IGO membership and in
elevated human rights records beyond IGO membership. We recognize that none of the
suggested hypotheses provides conclusive evidence for instrumental or intrinsic mo-
tives as drivers of norm alignment. Ultimately, these mechanisms remain inherently
unobservable. However, an interplay of these arguments provides suggestive evidence
which motive dominates on average.
5 Research design
We study the impact of IGO membership on the human rights records of states in a
sample of 73 IGOs between 1965 and 2014. Our unit of analysis is an ‘IGO-country-
year’capturing member states in IGOs on a yearly basis. Information on state
We acknowledge that some violations are more difficult to tackle than others, particularly if they are agent-
centered (see Mitchell, 2004). While this could imply staggered improvement processes, we have no reason to
expect systematic increases of disappearances in the case of intrinsic norm adoption.
100 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
membership in IGOs is derived from the Correlates of War International Governmental
Organizations Dataset (Pevehouse et al., 2004).
Our sample of IGOs builds on the study from Hooghe and Marks (2015)thatcodes
systematic differences between IGOs. They select their sample of IGOs based on the
following criteria: IGOs are selected if they have a distinct physical location or website,
a formal structure, at least 50 permanent staff, a decision body that meets at least once a
year, and a written constitution or convention. Hence, the scope conditions of our
analysis apply to major IGOs with a certain degree of institutionalization. The sample
covers a broad range of both regional and global organizations from various different
Our sample of countries includes only those states that (a) became IGO members in
the observation period and that (b) had worse human rights records before membership
than the average of the respective IGO. Hence, we focus our empirical analysis
exclusively on the alignment process of new member states that were originally more
repressive than IGO averages. While it is also possible that originally less repressive
states adapt to inferior human rights standards, we leave the study of this reversed
process up to future research.
5.1 Dependent variables
Our main dependent variable is the relative distance in human rights scores between
new member states and IGO means. Per definition, new member states are only
considered if they had worse human rights records before membership than the IGO
mean. IGO means proxy for IGO-specific ‘human rights cultures’and they are defined
as the average human rights scores across all members in an IGO.
Since we focus on
the subset of states that had originally worse human rights scores than IGO averages,
decreasing distances imply convergence to superior human rights standards.
we expect alignment toward IGO means during IGO membership.
We rely on Fariss’(2014) human rights data that combines various standards-based
and events-based datasets and accounts for changes in human rights monitoring and
standards of accountability over time. In so doing, Fariss (2014) provides a continuous
measure of human rights compliance whereby rising values indicate increasing levels
of respect for human rights.
As a robustness test, we re-run our analyses with the physical integrity rights index
from the CIRI Human Rights data project (Cingranelli et al., 2014). The physical
integrity rights index quantifies human rights compliance on an eight-point scale based
on annual country reports from Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department.
To test potential differences in alignment patterns across different physical integrity
rights, we rely on the constituent indicators of the physical integrity rights index. These
We present an overview of all included IGOs in the online Appendix.
We exclude the respective states whose distance is studied from the calculation of the group mean.
Note that originally more repressive states might also improve beyond IGO means. Since this also implies
that they adopt superior human rights norms, we measure relative improvement in relation to the group mean
instead of absolute distances.
19 Additionally, we account for reversed causality by testing our models with differentiated dependent
variable defined as the yearly change in human rights distances for each state-IGO combination. The results
101Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
are extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances, and political imprisonments. We are
especially interested in disappearances defined as “cases in which people have been
disappeared, agents of the state are likely responsible, and political motivation may be
likely”(Cingranelli et al., 2014, p. 12). State respect for the right not to be disappeared
is compared with the rights not to be killed, tortured, or imprisoned for political
reasons. All four physical integrity rights are measured with three-step ordinal vari-
ables, whereby higher values indicate more respect for the respective right. To avoid
reversed causality, we lagged all our outcome variables by one year.19
5.2 Explanatory variables
Our key explanatory variable is the duration of state membership in IGOs. Since we are
interested in the temporal dimension of IGO membership, we created a count variable
that indicates the number of membership years for each state in an IGO. We analyze,
for each individual state-IGO combination, how the duration of membership is related
to the relative distance in human rights scores to IGO means.
In addition, we are interested in the time periods before and after IGO membership.
Therefore, we created two additional variables indicating the number of years before or
respectively after IGO membership for each state. These variables allow us to inves-
tigate whether human rights distances between states and IGOs systematically changed
in the pre-membership or post-membership period.
5.3 Control variables
We include two types of control variables that could confound the relationship between
IGO membership and respect for human rights: (a) characteristics of states and (b)
characteristics of IGOs.
We account for states’formal commitments to human rights as indicated by the
ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). While
the causal mechanisms remain contested, previous research suggests that ICCPR
ratification is linked to reduced respect for physical integrity rights (Hill Jr., 2010;
Neumayer, 2005). Further, ICCPR ratification could correlate with IGO membership
since it might capture variation in the willingness of governments to comply with
international standards. We control for ICCPR ratification with a binary variable coded
for each state-year with data drawn from the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights (UN OHCHR, 2020). We control for ongoing civil wars with data from
the UCDP Armed Conflict Dataset (Harbom et al., 2008) since conflicts tend to be
linked to human rights violations and correlated with membership in IGOs (Poe and
Tate, 1994;E.J.Wood,2006). Previous studies have identified a lack of state capacity
as a key driver of human rights abuse (Englehart, 2009;Hafner-Burton,2014). Further,
states might differ in their capacity to fulfil membership criteria in IGOs. We control for
IGO exits are relatively rare. In total, our sample includes 36 cases of IGO exits as presented in the Online
102 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
state capacity with GDP per capita obtained from the World Development Indicators as
provided by the World Bank (The World Bank, 2018).
Turning to IGO characteristics, we control for the level of delegation as classified by
Hooghe and Marks (2015). They define delegation as the ability of the secretariat of an
IGO to take action in different issue areas. The delegation measure is a proxy for IGOs’
degree of authority and accounts for systematic differences in the capacity of IGOs to
exert pressure on member states in the context of human rights compliance. We account
for the membership size of IGOs since socializing dynamics could systematically differ
depending on the size of IGOs. We control for human rights IGOs to test whether
human rights alignment is driven by this subset of IGOs. Further, we control for the
annual change in the average human rights scores of IGOs. This allows us to preclude
that potential effects are due to moving averages in IGOs instead of improving human
rights records of new members. Additionally, we control for years to control for
systematic changes in human rights over time. Summary statistics for all variables
included in our models are presented in the online Appendix.
5.4 Model specification
We use varying-slopes, varying-intercepts models to test our hypotheses. These models
are especially well-suited for our data structure because they allow for variation in the
intercept (i.e., the IGO-state combination) and the slope (i.e., the duration of state
membership in an IGO) (Gelman and Hill, 2006). Further, they allow us to control for
confounders at the IGO-level and at the country-level.
The dependent variable is continuous sinceitcalculatedbysubtractingIGOmeans
from states’individual human rights scores. IGO means are calculated by averaging the
human rights scores of all members measured in integers leading to values with decimals.
We estimate varying-intercept and varying-slopes OLS regressions. The varying slope in
these models is an interaction between the continuous predictor time and the grouping
indicator “case ID”that consists of every state-IGOcombinationinthedataset.
Our key explanatory variable are the years of membership in an IGO. We treat the
years of membership as a continuously increasing count, the first year of membership
corresponds to a 1 in the dataset, the second membership year to a 2, and so forth. We
formulate our model as proposed in Gelman and Hill (2006):
Distancei¼αcaseID i½ þβcaseID i½
We present the results in the following order: first, we show the results of our analysis
modelling human rights alignment during IGO membership. Second, we present the
Hendrix (2010) suggests that taxes/GDP is theoretically more suitable to capture state capacity. Hence, we
additionally run our models with this measure. Due to substantial numbers of missing observation, we stick to
GDP per capita in our main models acknowledging that it represents only a distant proxy for state capacity.
103Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
average trends for the human rights distances before and after IGO membership. Subse-
quently, we show how different physical integrity rights align during IGO membership.
6.1 Human rights alignment during IGO membership
The results pertaining to human rights alignment during IGO membership are presented
in Table 2and summarized in Fig. 2. The key explanatory variable ‘duration of
membership’is statistically significant at the p= 0.001 level. As demonstrated in Fig.
2, the duration of IGO membership is associated with systematic convergence of
human rights distances between new member states and IGO means. The longer states
are members of IGOs, the closer their human rights scores align with IGO averages.
The systematic distance reduction is not due to moving averages of IGOs, since we
control for annual changes in IGO means. Hence, the findings imply that states that
used to be more repressive improve their human rights records as members of IGOs
suggesting socialization into ‘human rights cultures’.
The substantive effect sizes are comparatively small which is not surprising given
that human rights records are multi-factorial phenomena and IGO membership is but
one of many influences.
Fariss’human rights scores are constructed from several
human rights indices that tend to be relatively stable over time and it has been argued
that substantial changes in human rights conditions are necessary for a country to move
from one category to another (see Gohdes and Carey, 2017; R. M. Wood and Gibney,
2010). Consequently, the setup tends to be biased against large effects and we are
confident that the findings are notable despite relatively small effects.
Fig. 2 Predicted distance to the IGO mean during membership
Fariss’(2014) human rights scores range from −3.1 to 4.7 in our sample.
104 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
6.2 Pre-membership and post-membership alignment
Next, we test whether there is evidence for instrumental alignment by analyzing human
rights distances in the times before and after IGO membership. Instrumental motives
would suggest that states systematically improve their human rights records in the pre-
accession period (hypothesis 1). Further, instrumental motives would imply that states
return to their pre-membership human rights records after IGO exits (hypothesis 3).
Figure 3a illustrates the trend of human rights distances before IGO membership
averaging across all state-IGO combinations in the sample. The zero-line indicates the
time point of IGO accession. The figure demonstrates that human rights distances tend
to become smaller before IGO membership. This might reflect an instrumental adap-
tation of human rights records in response to membership requirements. However, the
pre-membership alignment effect remains substantively small. Hence, our findings lend
only weak support to the instrumental logic.
Figure 3b shows the trend of human rights distances after IGO membership
averaging across all state-IGO combinations in our sample. The zero-line indicates
changes of human rights distances after IGO exits. On average, states that leave
IGOs tend not to use their new independence to increase policy distance in the
realm of human rights. The empirical evidence rather suggests that new human
rights standards become enshrined in domestic policy and practice. Due to the
small sample sizes (in total, 37 cases of IGO exits) resulting in large confidence
intervals, this finding must be taken with a grain of salt. Generally, the setup tends
to be biased in favor of instrumental alignment. IGO exits result from self-
selection dynamics that likely reflect substantial disagreements with remaining
members. If a state leaves to escape IGO policy constraints, it is likely to use its
newly-gained independence to increase policy distance. Since we do not find
evidence for changes of human rights records after IGO exits, this casts doubt
to the claim that human rights alignment was only strategically motivated.
Fig. 3 Distances in human rights scores (LOESS)
105Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
6.3 Alignment of different physical integrity rights
Finally, we investigate whether human rights alignment during IGO membership
differs systematically across different physical integrity rights. The instrumental logic
suggests that states strategically shift to disappearances (hypothesis 4). The results are
presented in Table 3and visualized in Fig. 4.
The findings indicate that the distances on the indices of all physical integrity
rights violations tend to decrease during IGO membership. Most importantly, state
respect for the right not to be disappeared systematically aligns with IGO group
means as a function of membership years in IGOs. Thus, our empirical evidence
runs counter to the argument that states shift to disappearances to balance strategic
interests in repression with instrumentally motivated norm alignment. Originally
more repressive states tend to improve all physical integrity rights as they become
members of IGOs with superior ‘human rights cultures’. This casts doubt to the
Fig. 4 Alignment of sub-indices during IGO membership, (a) Extrajudicial killings, (b) Disappearances, (c)
Political Imprisonment, (d) Torture
106 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
claim that human rights alignment in IGOs comes at the expense of clandestine
Table 1 Overview of hypotheses
Instrumental motives Intrinsic motives
Table 2 Varying-slopes, varying-intercepts OLS regression model
Distance in Fariss’Human Rights Scores
Duration of Membership 0.01∗∗∗
GDP per Capita 0.38∗∗∗
Ratification ICCPR 0.07∗∗∗
Civil War −0.27∗∗∗
Human Rights IGO −0.04
Membership Size 0.11∗∗∗
Change in Mean HR –Fariss −1.12∗∗∗
Log Likelihood −9562.22
Num. obs. 17,056
Num. groups: IGO-Country 848
Var: IGO-Country (Intercept) 0.60
Var: IGO-Country Duration 0.00
Cov: IGO-Country (Intercept) Duration −0.02
Var: Residual 0.13
∗∗∗ p<0.001, ∗∗ p<0.01, ∗p<0.05
107Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
7 Robustness tests
We conduct several robustness tests to demonstrate that our results hold across diverse
model specifications. First, we re-run the main analysis of human rights alignment
during IGO membership replacing Fariss’human rights scores with the CIRI physical
Table 3 Varying-slopes, varying-intercepts models
Distance in: Disappearances Extrajudicial
Duration of Membership 0.03∗∗∗
GDP per Capita −0.12
Ratification ICCPR 0.11∗0.17∗∗∗ 0.04 0.15∗∗∗
(0.05) (0.03) (0.03) (0.04)
Civil War −0.25∗∗∗ −0.19∗∗∗ −0.11∗∗∗ −0.15∗∗∗
(0.04) (0.03) (0.02) (0.03)
Delegation 0.01 −0.03 −0.01 0.01
(0.03) (0.02) (0.01) (0.03)
Human Rights IGO 0.21 0.15 −0.00 0.04
(0.16) (0.10) (0.06) (0.09)
Membership Size 0.15∗∗∗ 0.14∗∗∗ 0.08∗∗∗ 0.16∗∗∗
(0.04) (0.03) (0.02) (0.03)
Change in Mean HR -
Change in Mean HR –Killings −0.50∗∗∗
Change in Mean HR - Torture −0.43∗∗∗
Change in Mean HR -
AIC 5058.94 7828.56 6088.46 7789.27
BIC 5141.82 7919.05 6179.33 7879.69
Log Likelihood −2515.47 −3900.28 −3030.23 −3880.63
Num. obs. 2751 4742 4869 4715
Num. groups: IGO-Country 190 362 391 363
Var: IGO-Country (Intercept) 0.38 0.26 0.10 0.25
Var: IGO-Country Duration 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Cov: IGO-Country Duration −0.03 −0.01 −0.00 −0.00
Var: Residual 0.28 0.24 0.17 0.23
∗∗∗ p<0.001, ∗∗ p<0.01, ∗p<0.05
108 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
integrity rights index. The results presented in Table 1intheOnlineAppendixshow
that our findings are robust to this different measurement of our main dependent
variable. Subsequently, we split the sample of IGOs in human rights and non-human
rights IGOs and re-run our analysis for both subgroups as presented in Table 2in the
Online Appendix. The results show that membership in human rights IGOs has no
significant impact on human rights distances while membership in non-human rights
IGOs is associated with significant alignment processes. This supports our key as-
sumption that human rights cultures are shaped by membership structures in IGOs and
not by their policy scopes. This also aligns with our additional analysis presented in
Table 3in the Online Appendix in which we compare the effect in political, economic,
and social IGOs. While the duration of membership seems to be related to reducing
human rights distances in all types of IGOs, the effect fails to reach significance in
political IGOs. Finally, we test whether regionalism confounds our findings. IGOs tend
to form on a regional basis and geographic proximity could likewise affect the diffusion
of human rights norms (Edwards et al., 2018). Hence, we run another model where we
control for geographic proximity with a binary measures for different regional group-
ings in the United Nations (UN DGACM, 2020). The findings remain robust as
demonstrated in Table 4 in the Online Appendix.
Our results support the previously established finding that IGOs provide a conduit for
the diffusion of human rights norms (Greenhill, 2010,2016). We are able to show that
human rights alignment takes place during membership in IGOs and that the effect is
consistent across different types of physical integrity rights. Confirming hypothesis 2,
we find that the longer states are members of IGOs, the closer their human rights
records align with the average of the other IGO members. This finding applies across a
broad range of IGOs and is not driven by the subset of human rights IGOs. This
supports our central argument that ‘human rights cultures’in IGOs are determined by
the membership structures of IGOs and not by their policy scopes.
The empirical findings tend to contradict our theoretical expectations related to
instrumentally motivated norm alignment. We find only weak evidence for alignment
in the years before IGO membership. The instrumental logic would suggest that human
rights alignment occurs primarily in the pre-membership period while no systematic
trends occur during IGO membership. Further, we do not find evidence that states
revert to original repressive records once they exit IGOs. While exit cases are relatively
rare, our results offer tentative support that repressive records remain largely unaffect-
Finally, the absence of strategic shifts to clandestine forms of repression suggests
that states do not only adjust high-salience human rights with co-members in IGOs.
Does this imply that human rights alignment is driven by intrinsic motivations? The
underlying motivations of human rights alignment remain unobservable and our study
cannot provide conclusive evidence for intrinsic motivations. Being aware of this
Arguably, our test is lenient toward instrumental mechanisms since we only expect states to revert to pre-
membership human rights records. The European Union literature even suggests backsliding processes once
the incentives for compliance are gone (e.g., Rupnik, 2007).
109Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
inherent limitation, our results cast doubt on claims of prior studies that primarily
strategic motivations drive human rights (see Greenhill, 2010,2016). Several observ-
able implications that might indicate instrumental motives find no empirical support in
the aggregate of state-IGO dyads. While instrumental motives might lead in some cases
to alignment during IGO membership, the empirical pattern rather fits to the logic of
intrinsic preference transformations that result from repeated interactions (Gheciu,
2005; Finnemore, 1996). Hence, it is likely that human rights alignment in IGOs is at
least not exclusively driven by instrumental motives.
An alternative explanation for the alignment of human rights records in IGOs could
be that states with similar identities self-select into the same organizations. In other
words, norm alignment would not occur due to influences exerted by other group
members but because of similar identities driving group formations. Such a homophily-
effect would bias the findings of our study since in that case none of the mechanisms
would causally explain norm convergence. If self-selection would be the key driver of
norm convergence, factors endogenous to individual states would shape human rights
alignment. Being aware of this caveat, we are confident that homophily dynamics do
not bias our findings. Greenhill (2016: chapter 6) provides extensive empirical evidence
that IGOs tend to form on the basis of regional proximity. We account for the
confounding effect of regional proximity with controls for the different regional groups
and our effects remain constant. This suggests that our results are not a product of self-
selection but driven by network effects that tend to take intrinsic shapes.
Do countries change their domestic human rights records when they become members
of IGOs and if so, why? Our empirical analysis has demonstrated that states tend to
align their human rights records with other member states in IGOs during their
membership. By levering the timing of human rights alignment and variation across
physical integrity rights, we developed tentative empirical support that this process is at
least partially motivated by intrinsic factors. Our evidence takes the form of an
argumento a contrario since we rule out the empirical implications of the common
proposition that instrumental motives drive norm alignment (Goodman and Jinks,
2008,Greenhill,2016). Neither do states significantly align their repressive records
before IGO membership nor do they shift to repression that is less attributable to the
government. Instead, we find evidence that states gradually align their human rights
records during IGO membership and that the exposure to different human rights norms
leaves traces beyond membership in IGOs.
Our research contributes to the literature on norm diffusion in IGOs (e.g., Bearce and
Bondanella, 2007; Greenhill and Lupu, 2017; Taninchev, 2015). First, we generate
observable implications allowing us to disentangle intrinsic from instrumental motives
for norm alignment. This has important implications for constructivist scholarship that
has been frequently criticized because it cannot be tested empirically (e.g., Kacowicz,
2005: 181). Even constructivist thinkers themselves have attested constructivist schol-
arship a certain degree of “empirical ad-hocism”(Checkel, 1998: 325). Our study
provides a new way to test constructivist arguments against observable empirical
110 Weyrauch D.B., Steinerty C.V.
patterns. We hope to inspire similar research approaches that develop creative empirical
tests for constructivist tenets.
Second, we apply a new modeling strategy to analyze the effects of state member-
ship in multiple IGOs on state behavior. State membership in IGOs over time warrants
a triadic data structure that captures each individual state-IGO combination in a given
year. By modeling individual triads and accounting for IGO-level and state-level
confounders, we offer a new empirical approach to study human rights alignment in
IGOs. Further, we contribute to International Relations theory more generally by
identifying a key mechanism for norm diffusion between states. We offer empirical
evidence that rising similarity or ‘isomorphism’(e.g., Finnemore, 1996; Meyer et al.,
1997) between states and societies is at least partially shaped by co-membership in
IGOs. Our study also contributes to the literature studying the effectiveness of external
means to promote human rights (e.g., Kelley and Simmons, 2015; Peksen, 2009).
Human rights compliance tends to be regarded as a high-salience domestic issue that is
not easily susceptible to ‘soft’international influence. We show that international
influence in form of co-membership in IGO has the potential to shape domestic human
It is important to highlight some further limitations of our study. We offer a
large-N perspective on the timing of inter-state alignment of different physical
integrity rights as a function of IGO membership. Our study does not provide
empirical evidence on the micro-level processes explaining how exactly altered
preferences of state representatives in IGOs affect domestic policy-making. Given
that an extensive analysis of these complex micro-level dynamics goes beyond the
scope of our study, we suggest that our findings are evaluated in interplay with
previous studies that shed light on these processes (e.g., Gheciu, 2005; Greenhill,
2016). We also acknowledge that our study cannot provide conclusive evidence for
intrinsic motivations. While the large-N pattern speaks rather in favor of intrinsic
motives, we cannot prove the internalization of new normative contents but only
contradict certain observable implications of instrumental norm alignment. Finally,
it must be emphasized that our study assumes that governments are able to reduce
repression if they are willing to do so. However, government control over the
repressive apparatus is no determinism in light of self-interests of coercive agents
for human rights violations (Butler et al., 2007).
Being aware of these caveats, we are confident that our study adds an important
facet to our understanding of norm alignment processes in IGOs. It is well-
established that peer groups have a substantial influence on the behavior of its
members (e.g., Fortuin et al., 2016; Simons-Morton and Farhat, 2010). Our study
demonstrates that this insight from everyday social interactions also applies to the
international arena. This finding has important policy implications. Given that co-
membership in IGOs seems to have the capacity to shape governments’repressive
actions, inclusive membership criteria might represent an effective means to exert
leverage on repressive governments. Beyond material benefits of cooperation,
policy-makers should interpret co-membership in IGOs as a channel of dialogue
and influence. While affecting human rights practices of isolated states is chron-
ically challenging, governments possess a powerful channel of influence if they
111Instrumental or intrinsic? Human rights alignment in IGOs
This study demonstrated that IGOs provide a platform for alignment processes of
physical integrity rights and suggested that these dynamics are driven by the internal-
ization of new normative contents. In essence, the results mirror key constructivist
arguments suggesting that states are fundamentally social actors with malleable
Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at https://doi.
Funding This work was supported by the the University of Mannheim’s Graduate School of Economic and
Social Sciences (GESS). Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.
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