David Weissbrodt, Joan Fitzpatrick, and Frank Newman, International Human Rights—Law, Policy, and
Process (3d ed. 2001).
Supplement to Chapter 17: Causes of Human Rights Violations (November 2003)
The materials in Chapter 17 illustrate the efforts by social scientists to attempt to correlate human rights violations by country with various characteristics of nations and thereby provide empirical evidence of the causation of such violations.
Oona Hathaway, Do Human Rights Treaties Make a Difference?, 111 Yale L. J. 1935 (2002), has made an important contribution to both the theoretical and empirical literature of human rights.
gathers data from quite diverse sources in order to assess whether governments
are actually complying with their human rights treaty obligations. Hathaway and her research assistants have done
a prodigious quantity of work in order to create the database on which they
run statistical analyses. Although she
demonstrates her awareness of the relevant efforts to assess human rights
performance, she differs with the other studies in terms of the sources of
data she has selected. For example,
she uses the Freedom House reports, even though she indicates her awareness
of the criticisms leveled at the lack of impartiality and inadequate methodology
underlying the numerical ratings in those reports. For genocide figures she uses a University of
Maryland set of figures as to which the definition of “geno/politicide” is
far more inclusive than the Genocide Convention for which she is trying to
measure performance. She measures compliance
with the Convention on the Political Rights of Women even though that treaty
has been eclipsed by the much more important Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
results might be misused to suggest that it is not worthwhile for governments
to ratify human rights treaties. Hathaway
does not draw this conclusion. She correctly
notes that governments often ratify treaties because they are engaging in
a public relations exercise without necessarily intending to comply with their
obligations. For example, she suggests
that ratification of treaties is “expressive” and she cites Dan Farber for
the proposition that governments are trying to “signal” their compliance without
She then correctly observes that strengthening
the implementation procedures under the treaties would make it more likely
that governments would comply. Her suggestions
for improvements are based on Anne Bayefsky’s study on implementation of treaties.
some misgivings about the statistical basis for Hathaway’s article and the
potential misuse of her conclusion, she is correct that governments often
ratify treaties without necessarily intending to comply. Governments are motivated by peer pressure and
by a desire for inclusion in regional or international communities. Take, for example,
reflects a horizontal look at the conduct of many countries, but we hope that
it will be succeeded by a longitudinal assessment as at how governments act
over a sufficient period of time to assess their performance after ratifying
a human rights treaty. Risse, Ropp,
and Sikkink have done such an analysis on the basis of several case studies,
but without the statistical approach Hathaway has used.
As Hathaway’s study illustrates, the first step in such analyses of causation of human rights violations seems to be characterizing the human rights record of the nation states. Various organizations have developed systems for ranking nation states on different aspects of human rights. A student of international human rights law should, however, keep in mind the inherent limitations in compiling data of this type. Coding schemes and counts of violations are value-laden and present significant challenges to even the most talented and seasoned investigators. For example, are 10,000 cases of torture worse than 1,000 extrajudicial killings or vice versa? What about 1,000 disappearances? Furthermore, many of the reports focus on particular types of rights violations. As for violations of freedom of the press and assembly, how should they be ranked in comparison to abuses concerning personal integrity? Studies may only report a particular type of abuse and not the number or severity of incidents.
Although tough choices need to be made concerning
how to count human rights violations, limitations inherent in statistical
analysis do not necessarily doom attempts to categorize, tally, and compare
human rights violations across countries and contexts. All of these methods of counting and comparing
abuses must just be seen as very rough estimates based on diligent, but unavoidably
imperfect, work, which may be significantly affected by the values of the
researcher or compiling organization. Some
of the most often cited reports include the following:
Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org) since 1972 has published an annual
assessment of political rights and civil liberties of nation states. (The methodology for these rankings is available
on the web site.)
The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org) is a NGO that was founded
in 1973 and “whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public
policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual
freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” (The
methodology for these rankings is available on the web site.)
3. Transparency International
(www.transparency.org) is a NGO dedicated to increasing governmental accountability
and curbing international and national corruption. Since 1995 it has published the Corruption Perceptions
Index that ranks countries by their freedom from corruption. (The methodology for these rankings is available
on the web site.)
For further comments
on these reports, see William Schulz,
In Our Own Best Interest—How Defending Human Rights Benefits
In addition, there
are annual reports of human rights conditions in the countries of the world
(without rankings) by Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), Human Rights
Watch (www.hrw.org), and the U.S. State Department (www.state.gov). The U.S.
State Department also publishes an annual International Religious Freedom
Report, pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Regarding Hathaway’s Methods and Conclusions
provocative analysis has sparked controversy in the international human rights
community. Below is a summary of an
exchange between Hathaway and two other international law scholars, Ryan Goodman
and Derek Jinks.
Goodman & Derek Jinks, Measuring the Effects of Human Rights Treaties,
14 Eur. J. of Int’l L. 171 (2003).
Although Hathaway’s contribution is much-needed, Goodman and Jinks
argue that there are real flaws in Hathaway’s methods and policy recommendations. Hathaway’s independent variable (treaty ratification)
and dependent variable (reported human rights violations) may suffer from
measurement error. For example, it is
not clear why ratification is the “magic moment” of human rights norm acceptance
for states, and increased reports in human rights violations may actually
be evidence of liberalizing and increasingly transparent governments rather
than repressive ones. Hathaway’s application
of her theoretical model may also be flawed. For example, Hathaway’s empirical evidence does
not test the validity of her theoretical model, she fails to make explicit
some of her guiding assumptions, and her conception of state signaling through
virtually costless ratification underestimates the true costs to state sovereignty
of ratifying treaties. Furthermore,
Hathaway's policy recommendation to increase the costs of state ratification
of treaties may disrupt the gradual process of constructing global normative
Oona A. Hathaway, Testing Conventional Wisdom, 14 Eur. J. of Int'l L. 185 (2003).
argues that Goodman and Jinks either misunderstand or misrepresent her argument.
She responds to their criticisms in a number of ways.
First, she clarifies her own argument by noting that Goodman and Jinks
fail to address the nuance of her work and thereby make claims that are at
odds with her real conclusions and recommendations.
Second, she asserts that many of Goodman and Jinks’ challenges about
shortcomings in her empirical project could be leveled at any large-scale
quantitative project and should be noted, but not used to dismiss her project. She addresses Goodman and Jinks’s assertions
about various potential sources of error and questions their reading of theoretical
and quantitative literature concerning the power of treaties to change state
behavior. Better analysis demands more
accurate and comprehensive measures of human rights abuses and treaty compliance,
but current large-scale analysis allows social scientists to detect macro-level
trends and should not be entirely abandoned. Hathaway also responds to Goodman and Jinks’s
critique of her theoretical claims. She
does not claim that treaty ratification is a “costless signal.” Rather, many burdens of treaty compliance are
internally imposed and it is relatively less costly to ratify than implement.
Her argument does not falter in relying on assumptions from established
theories of international relations when she seeks to criticize past predictions
based on their assumptions. Rather, past predictions have been “myopic” and
failed to take into account the different ways that treaties relate to state
behavior. States engage in mixes of
rational behavior and action influenced by norms and ideas. Hathaway concludes by reasserting that hers is
the first large scale investigation of its kind; treaty ratification may not
be as simple a mechanism for norm diffusion and compliance as some contemporary
accounts suggest; and Goodman and Jinks seek to ignore clear evidence challenging
current assumptions in favor of established beliefs about treaties and state
A. Hathaway, The Cost of Commitment,
55 Stan. L. Rev. 1821 (2003).
AND ECONOMIC FACTORS
and Economic Theories and Research
Scott Walker & Steven C. Poe, Does Cultural Diversity Affect Countries’ Respect for Human Rights?, 24 Hum. Rts. Q. 237 (2002). Walker & Poe note that there is some scholarly disagreement about whether the amount of cultural diversity in countries affects their relative respect for several clusters of human rights, including security and personal integrity rights, economic and subsistence rights, and civil and political rights. They do not find evidence that ethnic homogeneity is a necessary condition for governments to meet their obligations to respect personal integrity rights. There also did not appear to be a significant relationship between countries respecting subsistence rights and ethnic homogeneity with only the caveat that there appeared to be a “floor” under which no homogeneous society fell in their analysis. Furthermore, adequate respect for women’s political and legal rights does not appear to require any particular level of homogeneity. Human rights protections may exist for women across the spectrum of cultural diversity. Although there does not appear to be any hard and fast prohibition on diverse societies achieving high levels of human rights protection, the analysis does show that heterogeneous societies may face significant challenges in establishing strong human rights norms.
Walker & Poe used data around the year
1980 because they had trouble finding enough data for the variables they thought
were important in any other general time period. What does this say about the limitations of this
sort of empirical analysis? Is there
another possible explanation for their findings that only relatively homogeneous
countries can achieve the highest ratings on the Freedom House Civil Liberties
scales? What other variables or biases
might be operating here?
Maria Green, What We Talk About When We Talk About Indicators: Current Approaches to Human Rights Measurement, 23 Hum. Rts. Q. 1062 (2001).
Many of the articles in Chapter 17 and this
supplement are concerned with ways to quantify levels of human rights abuse
or enjoyment across the globe. Green
examines the idea of human rights “indicators” and shows that their definition
and application may not be as simple as dry statistics or indices might suggest.
Green takes an overview of the types of rights that are recognized
under international law and the manner in which international bodies and researchers
choose to report enjoyment of the rights and government compliance with treaty
obligations. She concludes that the field of human rights
indicators is not entirely coherent.
There are numerous
areas in which there is not a current theoretical consensus.
The word “indicator” is used in the human rights community to mean
more than just a statistic. Human rights
practitioners develop and analyze “thematics,” “benchmarks,” and “indices,”
as well. Green warns against attributing false levels
of precision to numbers and that aggregate data only reflect averages across
populations and may not be meaningful for many individuals within the group.
Although the stereotype
is that civil and political rights indicators are thematic and economic, social,
and cultural rights are measured by statistics, there is little difference
in the kinds of indicators used to measure civil and political as opposed
to economic, social, and cultural rights. There
is also no consensus on how to separate measurement of government compliance
with obligations from progressive realization of rights by citizens. Furthermore, there is also no clear distinction
in current human rights discourse between indicators that measure development
or conditions of poverty and those that measure economic, social, and cultural
Lindsey Blanton, Promoting Human Rights
and Democracy in the Developing World:
Haritos-Fatouros, The Psychological
Origins of Institutionalized Torture (2003). This study is a book length treatment of
the subject covered by Janice T. Gibson & Mika Haritos-Fatouros, The Education of a Torturer, Psychol. Today (1986) which is summarized and
cited on page 1009 of the main text. Haritos-Fatouros
emphasizes the extreme circumstances under which torturers must be trained.
Her study of Greek military torturers found that soldiers were drawn
from conservative families and were subjected to a series of rigorous treatments
and training regimens over a matter of months in order to prepare them psychologically
for their task. These treatments included
random beatings, orders to do impossible things (meant to create blind adherence
to orders rather than reason), and complete separation from people outside
the context in which the torturers were being trained.
Whereas Milgram’s experiments
were performed in the presence of “authorities,” Haritos-Fatouros points out
that in many cases torturers perform their roles in the absence of any supervision.
For them, it is part of their job. The
banality of the action is key to explaining how they actually carry out the acts themselves.
In the Greek case, the creation of torturers necessitates indoctrination
as well as instruction in the appropriate skills and techniques.
While torturers came from relatively ordinary backgrounds, it was only
in extreme settings and carefully controlled conditions in which the trainees
TRANSNATIONALS, AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Robert McCorquodale with Richard
Fairbrother, Globalization and Human
Rights, 21 Hum. Rts. Q. 735
William H. Meyer, Human
Rights and MNCs: Theory Versus Quantitative Analysis, 18 Hum. Rts. Q. 368 (1996);
Jackie Smith, Melissa Bolyard, & Anna Ippolito,
Human Rights and the Global Economy: A Response
to Meyer, 21 Hum. Rts. Q. 207 (1999);
David Weissbrodt & Muria Kruger, Business and Human Rights, in
Human Rights and Criminal Justice for
the Downtrodden: Essays in Honor of
AsbjØrn Eide, 421 (Morten Bergsmo ed., 2003).
L. Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict,
O. Sykes, International Trade and Human Rights:
An Economic Perspective (John M. Olin Law and Economics, Working
Paper No. 188, May 2003).
and Psychological Factors
Feitlowitz, A Lexicon of Terror:
Martha K. Huggins, Mika Haritos-Fatouros, &
Philip G. Zimbardo, Violence Workers:
Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities (2002);
Sanjeev Khagram, James V. Riker, & Kathryn
Sikkink, Restructuring World Politics: Transnational Social Movements, Networks, and
Dilip K. Das & Arvind Verma, Teaching Police Officers Human Rights, 6 Int’l J. of Hum. Rts. 35 (2002).
 Hathaway cites Daniel A. Farber, Rights as Signals, 31 J. Leg. Stud. 83 (2002).
 Hathaway cites Anne F. Bayefsky, The UN Human Rights Treaty System: Universality at the Crossroads 8 (2000); see also Philip Alston, Final Report on Enhancing the Long-Term Effectiveness of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty System, U.N. ESCOR, 53d Sess., Agenda Item 15, P 37, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1997/74 (1996); Philip Alston & James Crawford, The Future of UN Human Rights Treaty Monitoring (2000).
 The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Thomas Risse, Stephen C. Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds., 2001). See Coursebook at 1031.
The Purdue University Political Terror Scale (PTS) was
created in 1983 by Michael Stohl, includes data from 1980-1996, and uses
information from United States Department of State and Amnesty International
Annual Reports to assign numerical values to the general level of human
rights abuses within countries. For each year, countries within the data set
are assigned values from 1 to 5 (1 is assigned to states “under a secure
rule of law” with minimal abuses and 5 is assigned to states in which abuses
are widespread and “leaders of these societies
place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal
or ideological goals.”) It is available
at: <http://www.ippu.purdue.edu/global_studies/gghr/research_pts.cfm.> (last
Freedom House political rights data is available at:
<http://www.freedomhouse.org/> (last visited