© 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


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

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 and Kelebogile Zvobgo


A free and independent press monitors government actions, broadcasts public grievances, and facilitates debate and dissent among citizens. Because of this, some governments run interference -- censoring newspapers, harassing journalists, and shutting down media outlets. But, other governments do not. What explains this? We propose that executives decide to repress or to respect the press based on the sanctions they anticipate from two important constituencies: courts and citizens. We expect that attacks are less likely where courts can make adverse rulings and where citizens can vote leaders out of office. In addition, we suggest that these constraints can function as substitutes. Essentially, the reductive effect of judicial independence wanes as the level of electoral democracy rises, making courts vital to protecting journalists in less-democratic systems. We evaluate these expectations using panel data on government attacks on the media in 171 countries, from 1948 to 2015, and find strong support.

"Political Violence and Public Attitudes Toward Justice"

In progress.

Authors: Jamil S. Scott, Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo 

  • See a related article from June 2019 in The Conversation

How do individuals develop their views on justice for political violence? While some scholarship demonstrates that exposure to violence shapes political attitudes—for example, decreasing political tolerance and diminishing trust in institutions—little work considers how violence in the past shapes attitudes towards justice in the present. We propose that historical violence frames improve support for a range of justice measures, including apologies, memorials, and reparations. In addition, we argue that contemporary legacy frames, which situate past violence alongside present violence, further improve support. We evaluate these expectations with a survey experiment about racial-terror lynchings in the US state of Maryland. We additionally leverage qualitative data from life histories with descendents of lynchings and elite interviews with civil society actors and policy makers. Our results are important because they describe the conditions under which Marylanders and Americans, more generally, support restitution for historical wrongdoing.

"Gender Violence and Public Attitudes Toward Punishment"

In progress.

Authors: Suparna Chaudhry and Kelebogile Zvobgo

​How do citizens develop their views on punishment for sexual and gender based violence? While some scholarship has addressed when governments punish SGBV, little work considers how citizens develop their views on punishment for SGBV and to what extent they are influenced by concerns about human rights and effectiveness. We leverage an online experiment on capital punishment for the crime of rape in India. Though scholarship and practice indicates that capital punishment is ineffective for deterring future crime and inconsistent with human rights principles, the death penalty is nonetheless used to punish perpetrators of serious crimes. We expect that citizens who are exposed to human rights and effectiveness arguments will be less likely to support the death penalty and more likely to support alternative punishments, namely imprisonment and victim compensation. Our results are important because they indicate the extent to which citizens support policies that are effective and consistent with human rights.