All posts by Salvador Santino Jr Regilme

Human Rights Research in Political Science


Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy, human rights abuses remain pervasive in many parts of the world. State-sanctioned abuses such as extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and political imprisonments are still widespread in some parts of contemporary Asia, Latin America, and Africa — in particular, even in those countries that are self-proclaimed liberal democracies. What causes state-initiated human rights abuses? What is the current state of political science literature with regard to the causes of human rights norm compliance?

Taking stock of our knowledge about the topic is not only important for academic reasons, but it is also a crucial task toward better global governance of the human rights regime. On that regard, the table below from Google books Ngram Viewer shows the annual frequency of usage of the term “human rights” in millions of digitized books; it reveals that the increase in usage started sometime around the late 1940s, perhaps just right after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.


In a recent article in Third World Quarterly, I provided a critical survey of contemporary scholarship on the causes of human rights norm compliance and deviations. The article revisits the state of the literature in comparative politics and International Relations with regard to the causes of human rights abuses. Notably, comparative politics scholars focus on intra-national variables as they explain variations in human rights compliance over time, while International Relations scholars emphasize the overwhelming importance of transnational and systemic variables. Thus, I argue that we have yet to see more systematic studies that examine the links between transnational and domestic factors as they jointly produce variations in human rights compliance over time.

The empirical implication of my argument is that the human rights crisis in the Global South (e.g. post-9/11 Pakistan) cannot be solely explain by pinpointing either the internal governance problems of the Pakistani state or by zooming into the failures of transnational civil society movements to put pressure on the government. On that regard, the article enumerates some pathways the current social science scholarship must traverse in order to better understand the causal underpinnings of human rights abuses in the developing world. If my arguments are correct, then the policy implication is clear: in many cases, human rights crises in the Global South ought to be posited as a global governance problem that requires the cooperation of transnational and domestic actors.

In addition, students and scholars of human rights might find it useful to also refer to other important and very recent works on the topic: Emilie M. Hafner-Burton’ Making Human Rights a Reality; Thomas Risse and colleagues’ edited volume called The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance; Sonia Cardenas’ Conflict and Compliance: State Responses to International Human Rights Pressure; David Karp’s Responsibility for Human Rights; Courtney Hillbrecht’s Domestic Politics and International Human Rights Tribunals; and Cindy Holder and colleagues’ Human Rights: The Hard Questions, among others.

Finally, these recent pieces of scholarship could provide us a better understanding of the causes and the consequences of human rights abuses, which in turn, could give us a stronger foundation for crafting effective public policies for stronger human rights compliance.

Democratic Consolidation and the Global Political Economy


How do we promote regime stability especially in the Global South? In the current issue of International Studies Perspectives, I argue that the life expectancy (or stability) of nominally electoral democratic regimes in the developing world is highly contingent upon responding to the material needs of its people, and maintain that material distributive issues within those countries are highly dependent upon a given regime’s position within the broader global political economy. The article is highly theoretical, and it is inspired with a critical political economy perspective.

Perhaps one of the principal messages of the article is that regime stability in the Global South necessarily depends (but not sufficiently) upon carefully addressing issues of material distribution within those countries. In praxeological terms, regime distribution is not a task that can be solely done by the national institutions themselves, but perhaps by transforming the over-all structure of the current global political economy. In academic terms, regime stability (and in this case, democratic consolidation) is a subject of scholarly investigation that should bring scholars of comparative politics (who tend to be ‘methodological nationalists’) and international relations into one discussion table. The article explains these theoretical points in much detail, and make some illustrative examples in order to reinforce those arguments.

The article was written in 2010 to 2011 during my Master’s studies in Osnabrück, and it underwent several stages of peer-reviewed revisions since then until its acceptance in International Studies Perspectives in 2013. Indeed, the article is highly pessimistic of the future of the current neoliberal democratic regimes in the Global South, and quite radical in terms of its criticisms of the moral failings of the global political economy (as well as the academic scholarship that underpins it). In retrospect, however, I now tend to reconsider those arguments I’ve made in this article with much caution and intellectual humility.

While my long-term research agenda still focuses on the transnational-domestic linkages that produce local political change in the developing world, I am more predisposed to more empirically driven (but theoretically grounded) research, rather than theoretical musing as exhibited in the current article. Notwithstanding, I invite readers to read the article (contact me by email in case you don’t have online access), and to engage in a productive and critical discussion about the points raised (and not raised) in the article.

Finally, interested readers might also consider other highly recommended works on the topic:

PhD Pitch #3: Does Foreign Aid Undermine Human Rights in Recipient Countries?

Video Source: “No Censorship!” in Youtube

The video as shown above vividly demonstrates the complex issues about counter-terrorism and human rights. It appears that public security is always pitted against human rights protection. Our  intuition dictates that intensified counter-terrorist efforts can lead to an increase in state-initiated human rights abuses.
Continue reading PhD Pitch #3: Does Foreign Aid Undermine Human Rights in Recipient Countries?