Past studies argue that states abide by international human rights laws because the ratification of human rights treaties elicits public demand for compliance. Yet, the extent to which human rights treaties affect public support for compliance is unclear. At times, legalization of norms seems to elicit substantial public support for compliance, but at other times, legalization seems to have little effect. This study incorporates the life cycle of norms to arrive at a deeper understanding of the conditions in which international legal commitments to human rights generate public support for compliance with human rights norms. Using a series of survey experiments, this study finds that the effect of legalization on public support depends on the internalization of the norm itself. When a norm is emerging, legalization garners greater public support. When the norm is internalized, legalization does not always generate greater public support. In a sense, state commitment and norm internalization have substitutable effects on eliciting public support for compliance. This study also uses text analysis to explore the causal mechanisms through which international law causes greater public support for compliance. Laws of high obligation elicit public support by generating concerns over the state’s reputation, regardless of the norm’s life cycle. These findings suggest that policymakers and human rights advocates hoping to elicit greater public support for compliance with human rights norms should invest their political capital and financial resources on legalizing emerging norms.



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