Rulers as Mass Murderers: Political Institutions and Human Insecurity

Conference paper

Gates, Scott & Aysegul Aydin (2006) Rulers as Mass Murderers: Political Institutions and Human Insecurity, presented at the 47th Annual Conference of the International Studies Association (ISA), 22-25 March.


Relatively little research has focused on how different institutional arrangements in political systems affect political leaders? incentives to commit mass killings. Most studies rely heavily on a dichotomous democracy-autocracy scale and implicitly assume that democracy per se is sufficient to produce good public policy and avoid public "bads" such as corruption, human rights abuses, and human insecurity. This approach has standardized government behavior within democracies and across democracies and autocracies. In this regard, it fails to explain why a number of illiberal democracies have experienced government policies that run directly counter the idea of (to frame it in Zakaria's (1997) terms) liberal democracy. We address this gap by disaggregating political institutions and analyzing them on three dimensions; political participation, executive recruitment, and executive constraints. We argue that rulers are less likely to target civilians and cause human insecurity in political systems which effectively design and impose constitutional limits on executive power. Using a random effects logit model, we test our hypotheses against cases of mass killings from Harff (2003) and Rummel (1995). We use a new executive constraints measure from Heinsz (2000, 2002) which is based on Tsebelis' (1995) "veto players" framework. The results show that there is an inverse relationship between decision making constraints and leaders' incentive to target civilians. The level of political participation and openness of executive recruitment are not associated with the incidence of mass killing further suggesting that democracy is necessary but not sufficient condition of good public policy. These findings suggest the basis for a broader formulation of institutional checks on leaders' political power and their incentives to produce public goods and promote human security

This paper was also presented at: the PAC Winter Meeting in Konstanz, 2–5 June, 2005, as part of the Polarization and Conflict Project CIT-2-CT-2004-506084 funded by the European Commission-DG Research Sixth Framework Programme. It was also presented at the Conference, “Hastening the Day: When Peace-Enforcers Can Leave? Understanding Security in the 21st Century Civil Conflicts”, McGill University and Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada, April 1–2, 2005

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