A little over a month ago, I wrote about the growing academic literature concerning human rights treaties and their lack of influence on human rights practices. Based on my own experiences growing up in parts of the U.S. where it’s assumed we can "[Rebuild] Our Culture One Purity Ball at a Time,” I likened human rights treaties to virginity pledges, saying that “in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices.” There is a brand-spankin-new forthcoming article at American Journal of Political Science by Yonatan Lupu of George Washington University that may indicate my previous conclusion was overstated: when fully accounting for state preferences in treaty commitments, Lupu does not find any evidence that treaties make things worse. This is good news for human rights advocates everywhere and very important for human rights/treaty scholarship! Lupu’s article definitely deserves your attention.
This week’s topic for both my grad and undergrad human rights courses is “foreign policy and human rights promotion.” On the list of readings-not-on-last-year’s-syllabus is this little gem: “Enter the Dragon! An Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus US Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989-2006” by Indra de Soysa and Paul Midford. It appeared in last December’s issue of ISQ. Drop what you are doing now and read it! Seriously. It is thought -provoking, made me want to download their replication dataset and play with it before class, and made my students argue aggressively with each other in class.
In the category of “pop-culture-not-talked-about-by-normal-Ducks,” People magazine’s cover story last week was on ABC’s The Bachelor, Sean Lowe, and his pledge to remain a
virgin re-virgin until his wedding night. As someone who graduated high school in town of less than 1500 in Kansas, I think this type of pledge is pretty typical: many teens and young adults make a pledge, usually in front of an audience, to avoid sexual conduct until marriage. And, not surprisingly, most teens do not keep their pledge. In fact, there are some studies that indicate that these virginity pledges are associated with riskier sexual behavior.
In many regards, the academic literature on UN human rights treaties sees their effectiveness as extremely similar to virginity pledges: in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices. Why is this? Below, I outline 3 reasons why human rights treaties and virginity pledges don’t work.
Thanks to a very awesome grad student of mine, I just realized that last week marked the second anniversary of the start of the Bahrain uprising. Fueled by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, citizens of this small and very beautiful island state took to the streets to demand political changes. For two years, the protests have not completely dissipated but haven’t escalated to the point of civil war either. What explains this continued state of violent limbo?
No, this isn't one of those posts where we go all "Monkey Cage" on our readers and
pimp (sorry) promote political-science research, but rather a "Dan is befuddled, perhaps readers might help" kind of thing. In other words, I make no effort to answer the question of the title. The post is an extended version of the question itself.
In one of those strange synergies associated with social media, I've seen a fair number of things about prostitution today. Erik Loomis points to an interesting history of sex work. Then there's this Julie Bindel piece arguing that "the Dutch experiment in legalized prostitution has been a disaster," which isn't very good but does mention the key problem with experiments on decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution: that they just seem to make life easier for pimps, organized criminal syndicates, human traffickers, and others seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and men (she does a better job chronicling those issues here). Sweden's decision to abandon a regulatory model and criminalize the buying of sex (but not the selling of sex) gets a lot of positive press these days.
It’s a question faced by scientists daily: if you found that X wasn't associated with Y, would you report it? What if you found that treatment X was harmful to Y, would you report your findings? For example, let’s say you are an oncologist and you just concluded, based on years of research, that smoking wasn’t associated with cancer – would you report your findings? What if you were employed by the cancer drug’s maker or dealing with cancer personally, would you report your findings about treatment X then? Is it unethical to leave the results unpublished?
Questions of personal biases and valid science permeate all facets of science; of course, we as social scientists face these questions all the time in our research. Do personal biases get in the way of our science? Is there any way around our personal biases?
I’m a firm believer that the process of science allows us to eliminate many of the potential biases that we carry around with us. As Jay Ulfelder just pointed out in a blog post on Dart Throwing Chimp with respect to democracy research in comparative politics, the scientific process isn’t easy – there are often strong personal and professional reasons that lead people to stray from the scientific process (to me, sequestering results would imply straying from the scientific process). But, I would contend, the scientific process allows us to overcome many of our personal and professional biases. This is especially relevant, of course, to human rights research. As Jake Wobig just wrote,
“a person does not start studying human rights unless they want to identify ways to change the world for the better. However, wanting something to be so does not make it so, and we scholars do not do anyone any favors by describing the world incorrectly.”
Charli’s posts on Human Rights Watch and Autonomous Weapons got me thinking: should we really expect human rights international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to influence weapons systems? On the whole, human rights NGOs are a pretty powerless lot: NGOs don’t control military resources like states do and they are typically not at the decision-making table. Why would a powerful state ever listen to the musings of an NGO? Are all of these reports and calls-for-action by NGOs really just hot air?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) includes a right that many grad students and professors probably feel is constantly under attack: the right to leisure. It’s there, clearly laid out in Article 24: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Whenever I introduce the UDHR to a room full of undergrads, I always get some smart aleck in the front row that is quick to associate the document with some sort of lofty, unattainable ideal because of this right. What exactly is the right to leisure? And, why is it included among seemingly more important rights, like the right to freedom from torture or political imprisonment?
The ninth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Kathryn Sikkink about a variety of subjects, including her
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