human rights

“A Social Science of Human Rights” – Some New Social Science

by on 2014-03-07- 3 Comments

 This morning, I woke up with a very nice notice about the 50th Anniversary Issue of Journal of Peace Research  in my inbox.  The issue is worth checking out – there’s some good stuff in there.

As a human rights scholar, I was really interested in the “A Social Science of Human Rights” piece by Emilie Hafner-Burton.  While I'm happy to see human rights get a mention in this important issue, I think there is some significant literature that has been missed by Hafner-Burton's review.  I want to bring attention to this not as a “wait, why wasn’t I cited?” but because the piece raises a few questions and makes some claims to which we already have some increasingly solid answers.  Let me bring attention to a few of the statements from the review piece:

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The “Baptist-Burqa” Network and LGBT Advocacy

by on 2014-02-28- 4 Comments

It’s been a big and extremely depressing week for the rights of sexual minorities.  Despite some minor victories in Texas and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto, anti-gay bills remain on the agenda in many US states.  Things continue to get worse in Uganda and Russia.  What can be done to help stop the abuse?

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Political Homophobia in Uganda and a (Very) Belated Apology

by on 2014-02-27- 4 Comments

In what I suspect is the least auspicious debut ever made by a Duck guest blogger, six months after being welcomed by the Duck team, I'm finally posting. It turns out that starting a new job, prepping a new course, learning how to shovel snow, and attempting to finish a book manuscript all at once is not particularly conducive to being a good guest blogger. I'd like to thank the Duck team for their patience, and for their completely unwarranted confidence in still welcoming me to blog here. And I promise to do better from here on out. 

As Charli noted, my area of interest is in questions at the intersection of conflict and development in Africa. I'm particularly fascinated these days by African states, how they (and their international relations) contrast with traditional understandings of what states are and what they do, and how people in conflict situations organize themselves to provide for community needs, with or without outside help. So it's likely that most of my posts at the Duck will focus on these questions one way or another, as well as on general debates in the study of politics in Africa.

The biggest African story right now is the increasing criminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Uganda's new anti-homosexuality law has drawn the greatest amount of attention due to its extremely harsh penalties. Though the worst excesses of the bill's original language (including the death penalty for those caught committing multiple homosexual  acts) were  amended out, the bill still provides for jail time for persons who engage in any form of physical content with "intent" to engage in homosexual acts as well as imprisonment for those who help or counsel GLBTQ Ugandans.
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Guest Post: Considering the BDS Movement from a Human Rights Perspective

by on 2014-02-11- 15 Comments

The following is a guest post by Joel R. Pruce, a post-doctoral fellow in human rights studies at the University of Dayton. 

The transnational movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel continues to capture headlines and prompt crucial debate on the status of Palestinian claims to national self-determination and individual human rights protection, and the global public’s moral responsibility with respect to the ongoing conflict. Recent episodes, including the academic boycott passed by the American Studies Association and the SodaStream/ScarJo/Oxfam love triangle, signal that BDS is penetrating discourse and influencing decisions of prominent actors. Since sufficient vitriolic ink on this topic has been spilled prior to the current contribution, the approach here is to propose a critique of the BDS movement from a universal human rights perspective, in order to provide a consensus-based reference point with which to orient reasonable debate, while engaging with the movement itself in its own terms.

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Dear Kansas Board of Regents

by on 2013-12-19- 19 Comments

Dear Kansas Board of Regents,

Greetings.  You probably don’t know me but I’ve been a long-time user of your services.  I started my college career
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Human Rights Week Roundup: New Work by (Somewhat) New Scholars

by on 2013-12-13- Leave a reply

December 10th was UN Human Rights Day, starting off Human Rights Week.  In many regards, 2013 has been a very good year for human rights
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Tactical Concessions or a Kiss Off? Understanding Recent Changes in Chinese Human Rights Policies

by on 2013-11-20- Leave a reply

As has been widely reported in the Western media, on Friday, China’s state media finally officially announced two changes in human rights policies: (a) an end of the “Laojiao” policy of “re-education through labor” and (b) a change in the one-child policy in China, allowing two children per family if at least one of the parents was a single child (before both parents had to be only children).   Other, somewhat underreported, changes coming from the same official media report about the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China included a reduction of crimes punishable by death and efforts “to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.” Also in the news last week concerning Chinese human rights: China will have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the New Year.

What do these changes mean for the human rights situation in China?  Are they a sign of things to come or are these changes just “window dressing,” meant to divert attention away from the very pressing human rights problems within the state?  Many experts have highlighted that it is the latter: for example, Steve Tsang, although saying that the steps are an “important step forward,” said that it would be “naive to think this effort will seriously address the human rights problems in China.”  The famously negative NGO UN Watch also indicated that it was a “black day for human rights” when China and other human rights offenders were elected to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

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Creative Rebranding? Human Rights vs. Human Security

by on 2013-10-16- 5 Comments

I had a boy break up with me once by saying “we’re not breaking up, we’re taking a break.”  I guess the boy assumed that “taking a break” would be easier for me to accept than “breaking up.”  He was right: it took me a while[1] to actually figure out that “taking a break” was really synonymous with “breaking up.”  For my teenage-girl angst, “taking a break” just sounded better.  For the boy, “taking a break” was probably the safer option.

In both advocacy and research concerning of how people are treated by governmental and non-governmental actors, I think the same type of linguistic gymnastics occurs between the terms “human rights” and “human security.” However, I think the strategic use of the terms could have ramifications for both our research and advocacy.

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International Institutions Mobilize Opponents Too

by on 2013-10-09- 5 Comments

Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states - that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.

But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution's preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there'd be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.

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The Scarcity of Politics in Cosmopolitan Theory: Part I

by on 2013-09-15- Leave a reply

Syria has raised several questions that pertain to morality, legality, and strategy in international relations.  Discussed extensively on the Duck, Opinio Juris, The Monkey Cage, and
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What Helps End Minority Discrimination? Recent Cool Research

by on 2013-08-07- 2 Comments

Yesterday, four Neo-Nazis were finally sentenced for their roles in a series of brutal killings of Roma families in Hungary in 2008 and 2009.  Although the convictions have been applauded as a human rights victory, advocates are still demanding that Hungary steps up to the plate and protects the rights of Roma, a historically at-risk minority.  The killings were not isolated events against Roma in Hungary; other discriminatory actions have been occurring, without punitive consequences, for quite some time.

Why are Roma still discriminated against in Hungary?  Hungary is an EU state.  The state’s overall level of human rights practices is not altogether that bad but the level of on-the-ground discrimination against this minority group is appalling.  Unfortunately, the discrimination in Hungary against the Roma is not unusual. What, if anything, can be done to lessen discrimination against the Roma and other minority groups?

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Globalizing Human Rights

by on 2013-06-18- Leave a reply

My colleague and friend James Ron has a new article up at Open Democracy (with Shannon Golden and David Crow) on asymmetric access of global populations to human rights machinery. The article is one in a new Open Democracy series "Open Global Rights," which aims to " relocate the [human rights] conversation away from the west and to the Global South."
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Human Rights Treaties are Like Virginity Pledges, Part Deux

by on 2013-05-06- Leave a reply

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.

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Arms transfers to Africa: Hold the phone!….China is the good guy?

by on 2013-04-30- 3 Comments

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.[1]

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Human Rights Treaties Are Like Virginity Pledges

by on 2013-03-18- 8 Comments

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.[1]  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.

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Can IR Theory Free this Student?

by on 2013-02-25- 3 Comments

IMG_2294-1Omid Kokabee is a University of Texas PhD student from the Department of Physics who was arrested in 2011 when he returned home to Iran over the winter break to visit his family.

Though he is by all accounts apolitical, Omid was sentenced to 10 years for conspiring with foreign governments and given additional time in jail after he earned some money teaching other prisoners foreign languages and physics. His fellow students in the UT Physics Department have launched a campaign to try to free him. They asked my wife, also a political scientist, about what they should do.  Can we learn anything from international relations about how to free Omid? What do you think? 
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Note to Bahrain: Release Prisoners and Provide More Social Services

by on 2013-02-22- Leave a reply

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?

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Legal Prostitution: what can we learn from the empirical record?

by on 2013-02-20- 11 Comments

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.

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Do You Need a Pro-Cancer Oncologist? Bias and Human Rights Scholarship

by on 2013-01-28- 1 Comment

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.” 

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Human rights NGOs: Just Hot Air?

by on 2012-12-03- Leave a reply

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?

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