September 22, 2011
Eyes across borders: Researchers find International Human Rights Organizations help hold governments accountable
In countries where human rights are repressed, international nongovernmental organizations can make a difference, according to two Kansas State University professors
Using spatial statistical techniques and a large-scale data set on all countries in the world, Sam Bell and Amanda Murdie, both assistant professors of political science at K-State, and colleague K. Chad Clay at Binghamton University found that international nongovernmental organizations restrict the human rights abuses that a government could possibly get away with.
Their findings, "Neighborhood Watch: Spatial Effects of Human Rights INGOs," will appear in the Journal of Politics, a top political science journal, in spring 2012.
According to Bell and Murdie, international nongovernmental organizations, or INGOs, are growing in number and many repressive governments are worried about their effect. An example of one such prominent organization is Amnesty International, which is active in more than 150 countries.
The researchers say that the presence of international nongovernmental organizations can increase advocacy, mobilization and resources of a domestic population and can improve the performance of human rights.
"INGOs can play a big role in changing policies in some of the more closed and repressive societies around the world by crossing borders from less repressive states," Bell said. "With the growth in INGOs worldwide, we can expect for these activities to expand and become more important as a force for change.
Some of these organizations go as far as creating covert operations, involving members crossing borders secretly to try to embolden and mobilize groups who have severely limited rights, Bell and Murdie said.
"Organizations in Kenya can potentially help repressed populations in Sudan," Murdie said. "INGOs are able to engage in field building in neighboring states and that makes it more likely that governments improve their human rights performances. The ability to have this influence is limited by impediments to moving across borders."
Having their paper selected for the Journal of Politics is a high honor, Murdie said. "I'm really proud of the work Sam, Chad and I did. The paper tells an important story about the work of INGOs across borders, and we're really glad that the story will be told in such a great journal," she said.