My research for someone outside of academia


My research is about trying to evaluate whether the international community has made a difference in improving human rights status in countries that have grave human rights violations such as genocide, gratuitous killing, disappearance, and torture. Evidently, different regions have a different vulnerability to different violations.  For example, American countries, with their ethnic diversity, is more prone to genocide; while Middle East countries are more vulnerable to torture and honor killing due to religious conservatism. Therefore, it would not be sufficient to look at various human rights enforcement mechanisms on a global scale. Rather, my study aim at discovering which mechanism is the most effective against which type of violation in what region.

There are several types of enforcement the international community (NGOs, IGOs, states, individuals, etc.) could utilize to induce state c compliance with various human rights treaties to which the perpetrator state is a member. The international community could “name and shame” a state for violating human rights, namely, calling them out and imposing a reputation cost to that country. The reputational cost can later translate into the loss of foreign aid, foreign direct investment, and/or partnership in certain cooperations. The international community could also punish the perpetrator state using economic means. This is called trade linkage. A country could put human rights clauses in a bilateral trade agreement or threaten to impose economic sanction should a state violates human rights, thereby incentivizing states to comply with human rights protection to which they have already agreed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In addition, under certain circumstances, states could even resort to military actions under the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) to stop ongoing violations. This is permissible due to the international consensus that a state which deliberately violates human rights is not considered a legitimate state. Military actions for humanitarian purposes are called humanitarian intervention which has been used to save the indigenous population for massive ethnic cleansing before.

The difficult part of my study is how to accurately measure the state’s sensibility to which type of enforcement and what are the factors that I need to control so that I would know what is the true variable that is constituting the observed effect. When doing the comparison, I make sure that I hold the following variables in the countries constant: the population, the ethnic diversity, the history of authoritarian rule, past conflicts, and the agriculture history. These measures will be collected and synthesized into what I call a “sensitivity index ”that would evaluate the country’s overall sensitivity to which type of enforcement for which violation.

Should I find anything statistically and meaningfully significant, my study will contribute to existing literature on state compliance with human rights treaties. Political scientists can use this information to better inform governments or human rights organizations to come up with more effective strategies to protect human rights.

HR enforcement mechanism effectiveness: a regional comparison post 2

Over the past month, I have been working on the literature review and the sensitivity index I’d use to carry out the statistical analysis. The sensitivity index is a mathematical model that conditions the country’s response to international pressure such as shaming the country and implementing economic sanctions. Most of my efforts were devoted to developing and refining the equation for the sensitivity index. There are, of course, many variables that need to be controlled for to isolate the independent effect of region-specific variables. So far, the following region-specific elements are included in the index and most of them are controlled for in regression analysis: regional history of conflict, presence of authoritarian rule, the region’s agricultural history (e.g. the type of crop grown, the man-hour needed for one harvest), and level of freedom of press. The agriculture-related variables are the innovative part of my study since they were not previously considered relevant to the study of a repressive regime. But I was interested in testing a cultural theory which evaluates the people’s tolerance to hardship and to what extent they are used to looking up to authoritative figures. Gladwell, in his bestselling book Outliers, theorized about how endurance and perseverance became virtues in cultures that are shared by those living in regions that rely on slow-growing crops that requires long man-hours to harvest (e.g. rice).

Previous works on the topic of addressing violations have offered mixed results, suggesting that enforcement mechanisms must be applied discriminately in different cases with a careful combination of other methods to realize the maximum effect. Murdie & Davis (2012) offered insight on the use of “naming and shaming” (i.e. calling the perpetrator out internationally), suggesting that this method alone carries no significant effect but will facilitate human right development to some degree when being applied along with other international efforts. Hafner-Burton (2008), on the other hand, found that the same mechanism does not have a disproportionately positive effect on democratic countries, contrary to what has been hypothesized, and further suggests that perpetrating countries that have previously rectified human right treaties acted worse after being shamed.  In terms of the mechanism of the method “naming and shaming”, perhaps one of the most cited sources in human rights or even international relations in general, Keck & Sikkink (1998) illustrated the proper path of applying international pressure on violating countries through a “boomerang model”, which shows that transnational advocacy groups usually translate the grievance to another state and international organizations to which the perpetrating country may or may not be a member and direct the pressure through these outside players to the target state. Additionally, on economic sanction (trade linkage), both Spilker & Bohmelt (2013) and Dreher et al (2012) visited the various effect of economic actions to shape state behavior when it comes to human right violations, and found that only certain type of economic sanctions (e.g. Preferential Trade Agreements) have some positive effect in improving human right status in the target state. Even so, alternative explanations such as “rally-around-the-flag” effect (i.e. states exploit the fact that they are being sanctions as propaganda tools to rally domestic support) remain strong and plausible.

After looking at the literature, I’m really intrigued by the fact that there are substantiated results suggesting that most commonly thought of enforcement mechanisms carry limited effect. What might be the regional explanations behind this phenomenon? Although human right violations occur worldwide, some types of violations are indeed more prevalent in some regions than in others. For example, according to the Human Rights Risk Index, genocide is far more prevalent in Northern African countries than it is in South America, while the occurrence of empowerment right violations appears to be even across the globe. My study will focus on providing region-specific explanations on why some violations occur and how to address them properly using the mechanism or some combination of mechanisms that are “tailor-made for this region and the specific type of violations. My aim for the rest of the semester is to apply my current model to some datasets and further refine the structure of the equation. Fortunately, despite the fact that my advisor, Dr. Bowersox, did not specialize in human right enforcement, in particular, he had many experiences constructing indices and mathematical models for his sports politics research. I was able to get valuable advice from him to work out the details of my sensitivity index.

Looking ahead to next semester,  I will start gathering dataset and develop a testable hypothesis. I suspect that the model would require multivariate regression analysis so I will familiarize myself with some coding language over the winter break.


Hafner-Burton, E. (2008). Sticks and Stones: Naming and Shaming the Human Rights Enforcement Problem. International Organization, 62(4), 689-716.

Keck, M., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Cornell University Press. Retrieved from

Murdie, . A. M. and Davis, . D. R. (2012), Shaming and Blaming: Using Events Data to Assess the Impact of Human Rights INGOs1. International Studies Quarterly, 56: 1–16.

Spilker, G. & Böhmelt, T. Rev Int Organ (2013) 8: 343.


HR enforcement mechanism effectiveness: a regional comparison post 1

My research project aims at investigating the effectiveness of different human rights enforcement mechanisms such as naming & shaming, trade linkage, and direct intervention when being applied to different regions of the world. I’m currently working with Dr. Zachery Bowersox at the Political Science department.

My research is still in the literature review and coming up with research design stage where I am still trying to formulate an index or mathematical model that would allow me to evaluate the effectiveness of different mechanisms while controlling for some key variables that will interfere with the result. What I have been working on for the past weeks was something called a “sensitivity scale” which will be factored into the equation to condition the main variable X country-year. This scale will include the region’s history of human rights violation, the cultural tolerance to autocratic rule, and its agricultural background which might impact the region’s sensitivity to less severe human right violations. In terms of data collection, I have been looking at the PTS and CIRI data, along with Freedom House and UN reports.

Existing literature mostly report mixed or no evidence on the effectiveness of one type of enforcement mechanism while the other types are only effective under some circumstances or being used in tandem with other measures. In some cases, scholars have found robust evidence that certain enforcement mechanism such has trade linkage in fact exacerbates the HR problem in the region. Most of these studies use significance  tests to test their hypothesis. Indices are employed sometimes but not as common.

From the lit review, there have been abundant tests and analysis on the effect of particular HR enforcement mechanism on regional HR performance, but few has conducted research factor regional culture into the equation. The existing literature provides very helpful resources on methodology and relevant theories that help me not only in formulating my equation but also locate variables that need to be controlled in the tests. Several recent studies also provide me with valuable data which had not been made available in the common data sets.

Plans for the following weeks:

I will plan to finalize my model and look for data that would fit specifically into my sensitivity scale. I will also finalize the independent, dependent, and control variables for my study although the list for control variables could expand later on. Dr. Bowersox is assigning me readings in folders on a weekly basis, so I expect the literature review process to complete soon. Meanwhile, I plan to reach out to the digital librarian at the Woodruff Library to clean up some of the data already collected.