Repressive Regimes and Individual Petitions in the Human Rights Committee

I study how political actors mobilize in international legal institutions to shine a spotlight on the behavior of repressive governments. The international relations literature focuses on the role of states, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations, largely leaving individual victims of abuse aside as passive targets of government repression. By focusing on individual petitions of human rights abuse in the United Nations, I show that victims of human rights abuse are powerful actors in global politics.

My research addresses three questions: (1) Why do individual victims bring petitions to expose human rights abuses when doing so opens them up to retaliation by abusive governments? (2) Why do some repressive governments voluntarily accept this additional oversight, allowing petitions? (3) How do petitions affect respect for human rights in those repressive societies? I argue non-governmental organizations (representing victims) and political activists file international human rights petitions about specific instances of abuse to name and shame abusive governments. Although these rulings are not legally binding, they apply sufficient pressure on governments to improve human rights. To test my argument, I present a novel dataset of 984 petitions, including information on individual identities, the role of third-party representation, and the specific rights under contestation.

My work has been supported by UC San Diego's International Institute, Friends of the International Center, the Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies, and the Sanford Lakoff Research Fellowship.

Working papers

"Confronting a Repressive Regime: Individual Petitions in the Human Rights Committee"

Job Market Paper

Current draft available here.


Why do individuals file human rights petitions in international law against repressive regimes? Victims of human rights abuse face high personal costs of participation, including retaliation from the government against whom they are filing a complaint. Despite these costs, nearly one thousand petitions have been filed against repressive governments in the Human Rights Committee. If mistreated, political individuals and organizations have grounds for cases and file petitions as a part of their broader mobilization efforts to improve human rights. I test the theory and find empirical support at both the country-year and petition levels of analysis. Employing a multi-methods approach including the collection of unique data, interviews with Human Rights Committee members and civil society organizations, and cross-national quantitative analysis, I find that where civil society organizations are repressed, they are less likely to file petitions; rather, opposition politicians and civil society activists overcome the high personal costs and are more likely to file in these restrictive environments. I construct an original dataset on 984 petitions which codes the identities and motivations of individuals, the role of third-party representation, and the specific rights under contestation. This study of individual behavior improves our understanding of broader processes of mobilization, both domestic and international.

Presented at the Jan Tinbergen European Peace Science Conference 2021, International Studies Association Joint Human Rights Conference 2021 ("Human Rights and Foreign Policy"), Peace Science Society International Conference 2020, accepted to both International Studies Association Annual Conference 2020 (cancelled due to COVID-19) and 2021.

"Empowering the Individual: Repressive Regimes in the Human Rights Committee"

Revise & Resubmit at International Studies Quarterly

Current draft available here.


Why do repressive regimes allow individual petitions, drawing attention to their blatant violations of human rights treaties? I examine individual petition mechanisms which allow individuals to file international, legal complaints to an overseeing treaty body. I argue that repressive regimes face international incentives to signal their commitment to the European Union, a global power with a strong and continued interest in the global human rights regime. Repressive regimes, however, only bind themselves to agreements that will not be enforced domestically, when there are little institutional constraints on the executive. In support of my theory, I find that repressive regimes are more likely to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights' First Optional Protocol (ICCPR-OP) allowing individual petitions when they are trade dependent on the EU while facing lesser institutional constraints, both legislative and judicial. Individual access in the Human Rights Committee (the overseeing body to the ICCPR) is one example of non-state actor access in international institutions, which is an important component of understanding institutional design and compliance. Understanding selection into increased monitoring, especially from those with poor compliance, is important as these institutions can only be as impactful as the countries who join and allow this oversight.

Previous versions presented at the Political Economy of International Organization Annual Conference 2020, Georgia Human Rights Network Workshop Fall 2019, Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association 2019, Minnesota Political Methodology Graduate Student Conference 2019.