Human Rights under Extreme Conditions

PhD Thesis

Pfaff, Katharina (2016) Human Rights under Extreme Conditions [Menschenrechte unter Extrembedingungen]. PhD thesis, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.

Read the thesis here

​Researchers examining human rights violations agree on the rationale for repression: Political leaders violate physical integrity rights to exert control over citizens and retain political power. So far empirical studies have, however, not analyzed how exogenous shocks and extreme conditions are related to violations of physical integrity rights. This dissertation investigates two central research questions: Do extreme conditions lead to a decrease or increase in respect for physical integrity rights? Under which conditions is the effect of extreme conditions on repression fostered or mitigated?

To answer these research questions in a more systematic approach, this dissertation consists of five papers. Each research paper focuses on a different type of extreme condition or crisis whose impact is assessed conducting a panel data analysis. In the first two papers, I construct and employ a binary indicator to determine the existence of extreme conditions. The first paper looks at the impact of large-scale natural disasters and examines to what extent disaster aid affects the relationship between disasters and repression. Empirical findings suggest that the occurrence of large-scale disasters is not associated with changes in repressive behavior. Inflows of disaster aid in the aftermath of large-scale disasters, however, lead to a decrease in physical integrity rights standards in autocracies. In the second paper, I observe the effect of extreme youth unemployment as a socio-economic crisis on respect for physical integrity rights. Irrespective of the size of youth cohorts, this study does not provide robust evidence that youth unemployment crises are associated with changes in respect for physical integrity rights. Empirical results of the third paper suggest that financial crises lead to a decrease in respect for physical integrity rights, but can also trigger democratization, which is in literature in the long-run generally associated with higher rights standards. The fourth paper provides empirical support that certain types of coups d’état, for instance coups led by civilian autocrats, are associated with a decrease in respect for physical integrity rights, while coups deposing non-democratic regimes are followed by an improvement in rights standards. In the last paper of this dissertation, I present evidence that an increase in arms imports is related to a decrease in respect for physical integrity rights in autocracies but not in democracies.

The findings show that most types of extreme conditions in fact play a role for physical integrity rights standards. Policies should aim at increasing the costs of physical integrity rights violations, in particular in countries vulnerable to the crises and shocks assessed in this dissertation. In addition to making repression less beneficial than buying loyalty of the population, strategies, which prevent a strong drop in support of the population to the incumbent, are recommended. To analyze whether other types of extreme conditions such as cyber attacks also influence respect for physical integrity rights, more research and data collection efforts are necessary.

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