Political Science Faculty Publications


State Capacity, State Failure and Human Rights

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While it is universally recognized that states are responsible for human rights conditions in their jurisdictions, it is less often noticed that this responsibility has two dimensions, one normative and one empirical. Normatively, most people agree that states ought to prevent human rights abuses. Empirically, however, states may not always be able to do so. In weak and failing states, agency loss and the inability to police effectively can lead to abuses by private individuals and rogue agents of the state. Thus, on balance, weak states typically have worse human rights records than strong ones. This is demonstrated by a global time-series cross-section analysis showing that indicators of state weakness — low tax revenues, corruption, and lack of law and order — all have a negative impact on human rights to personal security. The effect differs for different kinds of rights. Extrajudicial killings are highly sensitive to state capacity, while political imprisonment is more sensitive to democracy. Overall, however, it appears that the totalitarian model of human rights abuse by excessively strong states applies to a restricted set of cases. The more common problem is states that cannot effectively protect human rights. We must take state failure seriously when thinking about the causes of — and remedies for — human rights abuse.

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Journal of Peace Research


SAGE Publications

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