Agency Costs in International Human Rights

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This Article asserts that the international human rights system supported by the United Nations can be viewed productively as a network of agency relationships between individuals, whose interests the system is designed to safeguard, and three main agents: states, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations. Each of these agency relationships imposes costs, as each agent has interests that conflict with those of individuals and possesses greater information than do individuals. Applying an agency perspective helps identify agency costs and suggests ways in which they might be reduced. An agency perspective also offers a new paradigm for viewing the human rights system, in which the interests of individuals assume a more central role. As a result, an agency perspective makes both conceptual and practical contributions to international human rights.