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Repression and the Escalation of Conflict

Final Report Summary - RATE (Repression and the Escalation of Conflict)

This project provided new insights into why, how and by whom peace, security and human rights are put at risk. It investigates three core questions:
1. Under what conditions do different types of human rights violations inhibit or fuel the escalation of repression and armed conflict?
2. How might governments attempt to avoid monitoring and accountability mechanisms designed to prevent the violation of human rights violations?
3. What role do the security apparatus and pro-government militias play in preventing or accelerating the escalation of violence and armed conflict?

To address the first question, we used quantitative global analyses to investigate how different types of human rights violations are linked to related forms of political violence. Our research highlights important linkages. We show that constraining media freedom has wide-ranging negative consequences for human rights more generally. For example, the killing of a journalist increases the risk that more widespread repression also increases in the following two years and makes improvements in human rights highly unlikely, even if socio-economic characteristics would suggest such improvements. Media freedom can also mitigate repressive behaviour by the government.

To we focused on two mechanisms on how governments and actors of the state aim to reduce the risk of being held accountable for human rights violations: constraining the media and outsourcing the use of violence to irregular armed groups. Using information from three NGOs, we created a comprehensive database of the killings of journalists. Investigating where, when and what types of journalists are killed globally between 2002-2016, we found that the fast majority of murdered journalists were working for small local or regional outlets, outside the capital city, and predominately reporting on corruption, politics, and human rights. Our analyses showed that the vast majority of killings occurred in regimes with well-established democratic institutions. But not all democracies are equally likely to experience the murder of a journalist. Our results highlighted that local elections increase the risk that local politicians choose to arrange the murder of a journalist to avoid a damaging story becoming public. A weak judiciary further increases the risk that a journalist is murdered by a state agent or an unconfirmed perpetrator in a country with otherwise democratic institutions.

To investigate when, why and to what effect governments collaborate with irregular armed groups in their own country, we created an extensive database on pro-government militias from 1981-2014 for all countries in the world, as well as an online guidebook with key information on these groups, based on extensive research of news sources, academic research, and NGO reports. Our global analyses highlight that pro-government militias tend to linger after the end of an armed conflict and continue to terrorise the population. While governments also create new links to irregular armed groups in post-war societies, they do not further deteriorate the human rights situation.

Finally, with face-to-face surveys in three post-conflict societies (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Georgia), we investigated how individual experience the respect of various human rights a decade after the conclusion of the war. We show that winners do not necessarily feel safer than members of the losing group and that those living under conditions that can objectively be classified as less safe and less stable, do not necessarily feel less safe than those in objectively more secure environments. The surveys emphasized the importance of asking people directly about their perceptions, as they influence how they evaluate stability, progress and the effectiveness of their government, irrespective of conditions captured with ‘objective’ measures.

Overall our research highlighted that the implementation of certain democratic institutions is no panacea to effectively protecting human rights. Instead, under particular circumstances they can incentivize state agents to search for ways to circumvent accountability.