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UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Group Agency 

This project investigates how the United Nations (UN) human rights treaty bodies – expert bodies tasked with monitoring the implementation of the core international human rights conventions – gain agency. The human rights treaty bodies are astonishing creatures: On the face of it, they are weak bodies that are chronically under-financed and lack any hard power resources to sanction signatory states that do not comply with their convention obligations. Moreover, although their expert members are supposed to act in their personal capacity, they depend on the signatory states for re-election and are therefore not always fully independent. Finally, the treaty bodies are composed of members who differ from each other in many ways but are also formally equal, which means that they have, in spite of their differences, to come to an agreement on how decisions are to be taken that is acceptable to all members. Yet, despite these unfavorable conditions, the treaty bodies have over time gained agency: They have been given additional competences by the conventions' signatory states and they have employed inward-oriented self-legitimation strategies to gain autonomy. Despite the UN human rights treaty bodies' elevated role in the global human rights regime, we know little about how and why the treaty bodies have gained agency. To fill this gap, the project pursues two objectives: First, the project will explain the evolution of the human rights treaty bodies' competences and test hypotheses on member state preferences and the diffusion of templates. Second, the project will investigate how the treaty bodies employ inward-oriented self-legitimation strategies (such as attribution of moral value, commitment to fair procedures, and association with ostensibly legitimate actors and institutions) to gain autonomy. 

        Our Team       


Prof. Dr. Monika Heupel

Principal investigator

Monika Heupel is Professor for International and European Politics at the University of Bamberg. She holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Warwick and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Bremen. She was a Research Associate at the University of Bremen, the Free University of Berlin and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center as well as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the United Nations University, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She was also a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute. Her research focuses on the legitimation of international institutions and the accountability of international organizations and advanced democracies for human rights violations. She has published, inter alia, articles in European Journal of International Relations, International Affairs, International Studies Quarterly, and Security Dialogue, as well as an edited volume with Cambridge University Press. 

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Marlene Joger

Predoctoral Researcher

Marlene Joger has studied political science with a focus on international and European politics at the University of Bamberg. Her current research concentrates on mechanisms of inward-oriented self-legitimation and autonomy-building in UN human rights treaty bodies. Apart from the functioning and legitimacy of international organizations her main research interests include human rights, migration and integration, political participation as well as Italian politics.

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