Skip Navigation

CAT Selection:Why Governments enter into the UN Convention Against Torture

By James Raymond Vreeland

By Leah Halvorson


This paper addresses a puzzle discovered by Hathaway (2002, 2003a,b): Dictatorships that practice torture are more likely to enter into the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) than dictatorships that do not practice torture. I argue the reason for this has to do with the logic of torture. Torture is more likely to occur where power is shared. In pure dictatorships that rely on fear and intimidation, the fear is so great that fewer individuals choose to defect against the regime. Consequently, less torture occurs. But these are protorture regimes; they have no interest in even symbolic gestures against torture, such as signing the CAT. There is more torture where power is shared, such as where dictatorships allow independent political parties. Because power is not absolute, individuals realize that not all acts of defection can be punished, so more occur. Some defectors are caught, however, so ironically torture rates are higher. Because the interest groups represented in these institutions exert some independent power, however, they will pressure the dictatorial regime to make concessions. One cheap concession these dictatorships make is the symbolic gesture of entering into the CAT.

UCLA International Institute