- Buckminster Fuller
Protecting Individual and Group Rights
What are the current major areas of research related to human rights?
Researchers are currently working on exciting empirical and normative aspects of human rights. The empirical scholars are asking questions such as why do some political regimes torture, whereas others do not? Why do some people commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes? Why are some countries democratic, whereas others are not? The normative scholars ask questions such as what is a human right and how do we know what should be included in a list of human rights? Who has the responsibilities to guarantee human rights? The causes of international and civil war are central topic of conflict literature. Chris Blattman and Edward Miguel provide a good overview of recent literature on civil war, and identify gaps in the literature.
Democratic Peace Proposition
The democratic peace proposition is the finding that two democratic states are far less likely to fight one another than any other dyadic combination ([democratic : authoritarian] or [authoritarian : authoritarian]). This is also known as the "liberal peace" hypothesis (see Paris 2004 : chapter 2 and elsewhere) or, as Russet and O'Neal (2001) call it, the "Kantian triangle" as a basis for peace (from Kant's 1795 paper "Perpetual Peace"). Both are characterized by democratic domestic government, membership in international organizations, and economic interdependence. Doyle (2005) adds to this a normative commitment to human rights. Russet and Oneal (2001) find that two countries that have these characteristics dramatically decrease their chances of going to war.There are two main divisions within liberal peace research, the political and the economic (Gartzke 2007: 166-70). One criticism of the democratic peace proposition that Ward, Siverson, and Cao (2007) raise is that once they add control variables such as geographic proximity into a Kantian triangle model, the findings of the model disappear. Nonetheless, as conflict scholar Jack S. Levy puts it, the democratic peace proposition is as "close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations" (as quoted in Mack 2009/10:12).
Rosato (2003, 2005) has been one recent, vocal critic of the liberal peace hypothesis who argues that the logic of the theory implies that democracies should be more peaceful towards democracies and non-democracies alike, but this is not the case (cf. Doyle 2005; Kinsella 2005; Slantchev, Alexandrova, and Gartzke 2005). Gartzke finds that economic development, free markets, and similar economic interstate interests make two states less likely to go to war - and that these variables also account for the democratic peace findings (Gartzke 2007). Paul Collier is a leading quantitative researcher in the area of conflict studies, development, and has a number of important papers online here.
Domestic Democratic Peace Proposition
The basic hypothesis of domestic democratic peace is based on the rationality of leaders. The theory is that democratically-elected leaders who are accountable to their citizens are less likely to harm or kill those citizens because it increases the costs and risks to elected officials (Davenport 2009: 130-1). The literature consistently points to a strong link between democracy and domestic peace. As Christian Davenport puts it, "over a thirty-five-year period, dozens of quantitative investigations have supported the expectations of the [domestic] democratic peace proposition... In every investigation... increasing levels of democracy correlate with diminished levels of state repression" (State repression is an indicator of human rights abuse.) (Davenport 2007: 176). One recent development that Davenport and Armstrong (2004) find is that increases in democracy have a nonlinear relationship on domestic repression, and that only above a certain level of democracy is there a beneficial effect on securing domestic human rights. How international law relates to domestic repression is a research agenda that has started to gain attention in recent years (Simmons 2009). Researchers still have much to discover in this area.
Often theories of democratic governance say nothing about the sequence of which different aspects of democratization should take place. For example, many people equate democracy with elections. Thus, they move quickly to have "free and fair" elections after a civil war, before the rest of the governance institutions are capable of either holding such elections, or engaging in effective governance once new leaders are chosen. Roland Paris hypothesizes that sequencing is important and that "transforming war-shattered states into stable market democracies is basically sound, but that pushing this process too quickly can have damaging and destabilizing effects" (Paris 2004 : ix and throughout; see also Call and Cousens 2007: 7). Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder (1995 , 2005 , 2009) have evidence that democratizing countries may be more likely to go to war. This again raises paradoxes and questions about policy: democracies are generally peaceful among one another and internally, but as they consolidate, they may be more war prone, which then further threatens human rights.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
In the early 2000s, some states agreed to a responsibility to protect proposal led by the Canadians and former Australian head of government, Gareth Evans. States agreed to (a) prevent, (b) react to, and (c) rebuild after disasters including genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Although non-binding, the United Nations Security Council did adopt this proposal. Researchers are using R2P to ask a number of questions. First, how can the R2P be implemented? How can it be enforced? How have similar claims been enforced in the past? Who should enforce it? What causes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing? How can these acts be prevented?
Recent events have sparked renewed interest in humanitarian intervention. A few recent examples include nonintervention in Rwanda, which resulted in the slaughter of 800,000 people, and the interventions in Bosnia in 1994-5 and in Kosovo in 1999. Contemporary scholars are using humanitarian intervention to reconsider and further some of the just war theory. Whether humanitarian intervention should be permissible or required is one area of interest in contemporary scholarship. What constitutes proportionality is another area of inquiry. Whether all soldiers are of equal liability to being attacked is a third.
Economic and political sanctions are another area of research interest. Whether sanctions are an act of war or should be seen as an extension of peaceful diplomatic pressure is one area of debate. Another is whether sanctions that harm others besides just leaders should be considered permissible. One empirical study measures how effective various types of sanctions are (Drezner 2003). University of Notre Dame professors David Cortright and George Lopez are leading scholars on sanctions. The Sanctions and Security Research Program, also associated with Notre Dame, is a useful resource. But a 2008 and a 2009 study find that economic sanctions increase repression in the target country.
A huge amount of research is currently being done about a wide array of questions related to development. What causes states to grow economically? Does development lead to democracy — and hence to improved human rights? Are more developed countries more able to protect non-economic rights? These are just a few of current questions scholars are asking. What causes economic growth is a question that has received copious amounts of research, but, as the respected NYU economist William Easterly reports, answers remain elusive. Other questions include how does corruption relate to rights violations? How does foreign aid relate to human rights? How do property rights relate to human rights?
Leading Researchers and R&D Organizations
Many of the top people in the fields related to human rights are mentioned above. In addition, some interesting individuals and organizations are the following:
- Harvard University Hauser Center for Non-profit organizations hosts an interesting Humanitarian and NGO Blog
- Chris Blattman, a Yale University professor, keeps an excellent blog and more resources on conflict and development related human rights issues.
- The Center for Global Development is a leading Washington based think tank on issues of development and human rights.
- The Human Security Gateway, an offshoot of the Human Security Report provides a wealth of searchable information.
- Partners in Health: No health care organization of a similar size has done more than PIH to guarantee the rights of the poor, ill, and disenfranchised. Its leaders, Paul Farmer and Jim Kim, have reformulated the academic debate between health and human rights by asking hard searching questions and showing their work that human rights can be better guaranteed even in the most impoverished and difficult locales.
- The Open Society Institute is a foundation that promotes democratic governance founded and financed by George Soros.
What other topics are in need of more work?
- Almost all areas of human rights remain open to further research. There are generally three areas where scholars concerned with human rights work. First, they ask, what causes human rights violations? Second, they ask, what are the philosophical justifications for human rights? Third, some ask, what can be done to prevent future human right abuses?
- The Human Security Report argues (p. 28) that most of the purported causes of conflict, including ethnic diversity, dependence on primary commodities, democracy, inequality, grievances, whether neighboring countries are at war, economic growth, and mountainous terrain, are all still disputed. Even for such well-established findings as the democratic peace hypothesis, researchers remain open to finding a convincing explanation for why the democratic peace holds. By no means are all scholars convinced of this finding.
- To what degree quantitative research should be used to make policy is an interesting methodological area for future research. Some suggest that using statistical significance to inform policy is often overstated, and others, such as Justin Esarey, are developing new ways of testing for substantive as well as statistical significance of large sample studies.
What are the current major areas of practical development related to this topic?
Democracy is one of the most important political factors in protecting human rights. The right to partake in government is deemed by the UDHR to be a universal human right. But how to promote democracy is a contentious question. Per capita income, education, modern culture, particular sequencing of various types of governance such as when elections should be held after a civil war, institutions, and views and actions of elite actors, have all been proffered as factors contributing to or undermining democratization. Recently, the US tried another way to promote democracy (among other reasons the US gave for the war), by militarily imposing democracy on Iraq. Assessment of the success of the venture is widely debated.
How to best achieve democracy is far from clear, and case specific. One approach that the New York Times reports played a role in both the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia in 2000 and of Mubarak in Egypt in 2011 is nonviolent direct action, as described by Gene Sharp. Some case studies of nonviolent resistance may be useful for people seeking alternatives to violence in the search for improved rights and justice. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan argue in a new book that nonviolent resistance is generally twice as likely a violent resistance to be successful.
Whether criminal courts can assist in protecting human rights is contentious. Thoms, Ron and Paris review the effects of criminal trials in a 2010 article entitled "State-Level Effects of Transitional Justice: What Do We Know?" which is based on this longer paper. The evidence, they report, is mixed.
- A 2010 study using a new data set of over 100 transitions from 1974 to 2004 of high and low level criminals, by Hunjoon Kim and Kathryn Sikkink, suggests that prosecutions do prevent prospective security rights violations (Kim and Sikkink 2010). Their data includes both international as well as domestic law and courts. They find that as the number of human rights prosecutions in countries in transition from one type of political regime to another increases, the likelihood of security rights violations in the future decreases (Kim and Sikkink 2010: 941, 951-58). Contrary to the peace versus justice tradeoff that holds that prosecutions and threats of prosecutions may cause more violence, this study suggests that deterrence even works during ongoing civil wars (Kim and Sikkink 2010: 955-6). One problem with this study for policy prescriptions is that they lumped low and high level criminals together. This is a problem for the peace vs. justice tradeoff because it tells us little about what prosecuting high-level actors, who have the greatest possibility to renew violence, might do if threatened with trials. If one decides to pursue criminal prosecution, experiments are occurring with a variety of types of criminal courts.
- Besides domestic and international courts, there are a number of types of hybrid courts that have some local elements together with international elements. The Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) is one such example. In sum, even though the new Kim and Sikkink article is encouraging, it is too early to judge whether criminal trials can deter prospective human rights violations.
Whether truth and reconciliation commissions are effective (however that is assessed) is still deeply controversial also. For example, Thoms, Ron and Paris review the existing literature in a 2010 article entitled "State-Level Effects of Transitional Justice: What Do We Know?" based on this longer paper and find that "most studies covered in this review find that TJ has either positive or no effects at all. Few of them find that TJ has negative impacts. Strong claims in either direction, however, are so far not supported by the existing scholarly literature." On pp. 6-8 and 51-5 of the open source paper they summarize their suggestions for policy makers who are considering and implementing transitional justice mechanisms.
A study published after that by Thoms, Ron, and Paris, finds more positive evidence of truth commissions working to deter — but this too is just one study and their findings should be taken as tentative. Kim and Sikkink claim that not only are interests at work in deterrence, but so too are norms because truth commissions have a deterrence effect independent of criminal trials (Kim and Sikkink 2010: 953-4, 957). Truth and reconciliation commissions can decrease violence. But at the same time, if Amnesty is offered, the victims might feel wronged because of their loss of loved ones.
One of the most disputed means of protecting human rights is humanitarian intervention. Foreign intervention is a military invasion of one country by outside actors for humanitarian purposes. Because military force is used, inevitably innocents' rights are violated. But if nothing were done, as with Rwanda in 1994, many could needlessly lose their lives. Generally state and suprastate actors, not rebel groups or other nonstate actors, have intervened for humanitarian purposes. Although nonstate actors can and do advocate for intervention, as we saw in 2011 in Libya, often only the most powerful actors around the world can implement.
There are two ways to view human rights and international development. The first, as some claim, is the human right to development. This is a broad right that would, presumably, cover all sorts of development including required increases in nutrition, housing, education, and so on. Another way of viewing this is that everyone has the rights in the UDHR, but that states or other organizations have obligations to help less developed countries guarantee their citizen’s human rights.
- The 2000 UN Human Development Report is entitled Human Rights and Human Development, and is an excellent resource for how human rights relate to development.
- Daniel Kaufmann, a World Bank researcher, reviews in this paper how development can be linked to protecting human rights.
- Peter Uvin, a leading scholar on the link between development and security, has written a useful book called Human Rights and Development.
What other topics are in need of more development work?
Every area needs more development work. Despite the important empirical work done, there is still no consensus on almost any issue other than democracies are generally better at protecting human rights domestically than autocracies. Much more needs to be learned about how democracy can best be fostered, what forms work best under what circumstances, and how democracies can be built without increasing violence and harming human rights in the process. We also have much to learn about preventing human rights abuses and stopping them once they occur in non-democratic states. Despite the cry after the Holocaust of "never again," genocides, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other widespread human rights failures continue to occur practically worldwide. Much more scholarly research, as well as practical invention and creativity is needed in order to make progress on preventing these atrocities.