Domestic public preferences often shape leaders’ decisions to comply with international legal rulings. Human rights scholars usually assume these preferences favor enforcement and justice. However, just because the public supports human rights does not mean they universally support remedies ordered by international courts. What happens when leaders face competing compliance pressures from an international court and domestic public? I examine this question in the context of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a regional human rights court that operates primarily in Latin America. I argue that non-compliance may sometimes result from democratic leaders adjusting compliance behavior according to public opinion, especially when the implicated actor is popular. In particular, I argue that compliance is a function of proximity to the next presidential election, therefore necessitating greater responsiveness to the public’s opinions, and the public’s attitudes toward the actor implicated by the ruling. I test my argument on an original dataset of all Inter-American Court rulings implicating the military. I show that if the public does not support the military, the probability of compliance increases closer to an election; however, if the public does support the military, the probability of compliance decreases. My findings suggest the importance of incorporating the public’s attitudes into existing models of compliance with international law.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.