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We present an interdisciplinary theory that considers how loss of membership in international organizations affects states’ human rights practices. Drawing mostly from social psychology and international relations research, we argue that states are socialized into the international community through a process of social influence, whereby they are incentivized to comply with group norms by the promise (threat) of social rewards (punishments). Social influence occurs when states form social bonds through interactions with other states. When social bonds are severed, fewer opportunities for social influence occur due to lower information to both the remaining states and the state that lost those social bonds. Thus, we hypothesize that the loss of membership from IGOs reduces incentives to comply with group norms and adversely affects human rights practices at home. A combination of propensity score matching/regression and autoregressive distributed lag (ADL) models on a global cross-section across the years 1978–2012 supports the theory. Specifically, losing at least one IGO membership leads to a long-run drop in human rights respect of about one quarter to one half standard deviation.


Originally published in International Interactions 45 (1): 113-143