© 2020 by International Justice Lab.

Human Rights

"Human Rights versus National Interests: Shifting US Public Attitudes on the International Criminal Court"

International Studies Quarterly 63(4): 1065–1078.


Author: Kelebogile Zvobgo

​See a related article in The Washington Post


The United States—an architect of international criminal tribunals in the twentieth century—has since moderated its involvement in international justice. Striking to many observers is the US’s failure to join the International Criminal Court—the institutional successor to the tribunals the nation helped install in Germany, Japan, the Balkans, and Rwanda. Interestingly, the US public’s support of the ICC increases yearly despite the government’s ambivalence about, and even hostility towards, the Court. Drawing on the US foreign policy public opinion literature, I theorize that human rights frames increase support for joining the ICC among Americans, whereas national interest frames decrease support. I administer an online survey experiment to evaluate these expectations and find consistent support. I additionally test hypotheses from the framing literature in American Politics regarding the effect of exposure to two competing frames. I find that participants exposed to competing frames hold more moderate positions than participants exposed to a single frame but differ appreciably from the control group. Crucially, I find that participants’ beliefs about international organizations’ effectiveness and impartiality are equally, if not more, salient than the treatments. Thus, the ICC may be able to mobilize support and pressure policy change by demonstrating effectiveness and impartiality.

"The World Bank as an Enforcer of Human Rights

Conditionally accepted at the Journal of Human Rights.

Authors: Kelebogile Zvobgo and Benjamin A.T. Graham (University of Southern California)

2019 Best Paper Award, Human Rights Section, International Studies Association

2018 Best Faculty Paper Award, West Region, International Studies Association

Since the 1990s, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel and Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) have responded to hundreds of human rights complaints filed by or on behalf of project-affected communities. Yet, little is known about complaint outcomes and factors that enhance the likelihood of complaint success. We theorize that complaints involving indigenous communities, or pertaining to involuntary resettlement and severe environmental impacts, will be more likely to result in a favorable outcome due to the Bank’s novel policies governing these issues. We also expect that NGO-supported communities are more likely to succeed due to organizational capacity and expertise. We evaluate these expectations using an original dataset of Inspection Panel and CAO complaints (1993-2017). We find strong support for our expectations about indigenous communities, weak support for our expectations about projects involving involuntary resettlement, and no support for our expectations about environmentally risky projects. We find that NGO support is strongly associated with complaint success, but cannot rule out the possibility that this effect is primarily the result of screening, rather than capacity and expertise.

"Defending the Watchdogs: Independent Courts and Media Freedom in Illiberal Regimes"

In progress.

Authors: Jonathan Solis (AidData) and Kelebogile Zvobgo

What prevents governments from censoring newspapers, harassing journalists, or shutting down media outlets? Prior scholarship indicates that democratic governments respect, whereas autocratic governments repress, their watchdogs. However, existing studies neglect the institutional conditions under which even illiberal regimes may be restrained from assaulting the press. We argue that independent national courts restrain executives from attacking the media; however, this reductive effect wanes as the level of democracy rises and citizens can vote leaders out of office. To evaluate our expectations, we analyze panel data on government attacks on the media across 170 countries, from 1948 to 2012. We find strong support for the conditional effect of judicial independence on government attacks on the media. Independent courts decrease the likelihood of (1) censorship of newspapers, television, and radio and (2) threats and physical violence against journalists in countries with low to moderate levels of electoral democracy. We conclude with a discussion of implications for scholars of judicial politics, electoral politics, and human rights.