"Empowering Your Victims: Why Repressive Regimes Allow Individual Petitions in the Human Rights Committee"

Accepted at Review of International Organizations

(Previously titled "Empowering the Individual: Repressive Regimes in the Human Rights Committee")


The growing literature explaining why repressive regimes ratify human rights treaties fails to explain why some regimes take the additional step to delegate authority to their people to file international legal complaints while others do not. I examine individual petition mechanisms in the United Nations which allow individuals to file 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 ratify agreements when they perceive low domestic costs with 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' Optional Protocol allowing individual petitions when they are trade dependent on the EU while facing lesser institutional constraints, both legislative and judicial. The results are similar to explaining treaty ratification, but the interaction is substantively larger for OP ratification among repressive countries, highlighting the increased costs repressive leaders face to allowing individual petitions. Individual standing in the overseeing body of the ICCPR is one example of non-state actor access in international institutions, which is an important component of understanding institutional design and compliance.

Previous versions presented at the Political Economy of International Organization 2020, Georgia Human Rights Network Workshop Fall 2019, APSA 2019, and Minnesota Political Methodology Graduate Student Conference 2019.

Working papers

"Naming and Shaming in UN Treaty Bodies:  Individual Petitions' Effect on Human Rights" 

under review


Can non-binding decisions by inter-governmental organizations improve respect for human rights? Much of the existing literature believes that international law has a limited effect, especially without enforcement mechanisms, in the countries where it's needed the most. Focused on repressive regimes, this paper analyzes petitions filed by victims of human rights abuse in the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the overseeing body of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a form of naming and shaming, I theorize that Committee violation rulings may improve human rights when paired with civil society actors with the resources to publicize the findings to a global audience. I argue that petitions filed by individual victims serve as an effective personal frame, presenting a compelling and relatable narrative, and Committee rulings lend legitimacy to civil society's constant naming and shaming. This naming and shaming increases reputational costs for repressive regimes that are economically dependent on Western, liberal democracies. I use a multi-methods approach including quantitative analysis of aggregate measures of physical integrity rights and case studies focused on specific policies under contestation in the Committee. Leveraging an original dataset, I find that governments improve respect for the most severe abuses involving bodily harm immediately after violation rulings. These short-lived effects are driven by petitions where civil society actors are listed as representation.

Presented at: Political Economy of International Organization 2023, ISA 2023, New Directions in Law and Society 2022,  APSA 2022 

"Individual Mobilization by Victims of Human Rights Abuse: Who Files Petitions in the United Nations?"

(Previously titled "Confronting a Repressive Regime: Individual Petitions in the Human Rights Committee")

Best Graduate Student Paper,  Law and Courts Section, American Political Science Association 2022


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, ISA Joint Human Rights Conference 2021 ("Human Rights and Foreign Policy"), Peace Science Society International 2020, accepted to both ISA 2020 (canceled due to COVID-19) and 2021.

"Finding the Right Forum: Non-State Actor Engagement in International Organizations" with  Gino Pauselli

Presented at the APSA 2023

Works in Progress 

Petitioning for Progress: How Victims of Human Rights Abuse Participate in the United Nations (Book Project)

"Timing is Everything: Ratifying Human Rights Treaties and their Individual Petition Mechanisms"