Peer-Reviewed Publications (18)
(1) Byrne, Alexandra,* Bilen Zerie,* and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Producing Truth: Public Memory Projects in Post-Violence Societies." Human Rights Quarterly, forthcoming. [Data]
How do societies remember historical political violence? We draw on an original dataset of nearly 200 memorialization projects proposed by truth commissions in 28 post-violence countries, from 1970 to 2018. These projects include the removal of monuments, installation of museums, inauguration of national days of remembrance, and more. Truth commission recommendations data allows us to not only consider memory sites once established, but also to examine blueprints for the types of memory that could have been made. We develop a typology and inductively generate a theory of the political contests and conflicts that different memory projects are likely to trigger—contests and conflicts that we expect influence the likelihood of project initiation and completion. We conduct an initial probe of the theory using our new data. In so doing, we offer the first systematic, global study of setting and implementing the memorialization agenda in post-violence societies.
(2) Gillooly, Shauna, Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2024. "Co-Opting Truth: Explaining Quasi-Judicial Institutions in Authoritarian Regimes." Human Rights Quarterly, forthcoming. [Data]
What accounts for the creation, design, and outputs of quasi-judicial institutions in autocracies? Prior research demonstrates that autocrats co-opt electoral, legislative, and judicial institutions to curtail opponents' power and curry international patrons' favor. However, scholarship on co-optation neglects quasi-judicial mechanisms, such as truth commissions, that can be useful for arranging a political narrative that bolsters a leader's image while undermining his rivals. In this paper, we formalize the concept of autocratic truth commissions—which account for one-third of truth commissions globally—and develop and test a novel theory of their origins, inputs, and outputs. We theorize that autocrats establish self-investigating commissions, which collect information about atrocities by regime members, in response to threats to their symbolic authority and install rival-investigating commissions, which collect information about atrocities by regime opponents, in response to threats to both symbolic authority and regime survival. We further argue that these two commission types take on different institutional forms and produce different outputs. Self-investigating commissions are afforded weak investigative powers and produce reports that obscure basic facts, such as the extent of abuses and the parties responsible. Meanwhile, rival-investigating commissions are granted strong investigative powers and culminate in accurate reports of rivals' responsibility for abuses. We evaluate these expectations through comparative case studies of two autocratic truth commissions in Uganda, and find strong support.
(3) Mulesky, Suzie, Wayne Sandholtz, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2024. "Do Human Rights Treaty Obligations Matter for Ratification?" Journal of Human Rights. Published online ahead of print. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
International relations scholarship assumes that states weigh the costs and benefits of treaty ratification. In human rights, the worse a particular state’s record, the higher the presumptive costs of ratification and the lower the likelihood of ratification. But prior work neglects variation in the extent of obligation that different treaties create. In this article, we argue and demonstrate that (1) human rights treaties differ substantially in the scope and scale of the obligations they contain, (2) this variation can be measured, and (3) it matters for ratification. Treaties that create a larger number of demanding obligations imply greater potential costs of compliance for states. The larger the number of demanding obligations, the more grounds various actors will have to challenge a state’s practices. We analyze innovative data on treaty obligations and commitments for the ten core global human rights treaties to test our propositions, and we find strong support.
(4) Boyes, Christina, Cody D. Eldredge, Megan Shannon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2024. "Social Pressure in the International Human Rights Regime: Why States Withdraw Treaty Reservations." British Journal of Political Science. Published online ahead of print. [Open Access] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
States often use reservations to modify their treaty obligations. Prior research demonstrates why states enter reservations and why states object to reservations, but little work explains why states withdraw them. We argue that states withdraw reservations in response to international social pressure. Using novel data on reservations and reservation withdrawals for the nine core international human rights treaties, our analyses reveal two factors that compel states to withdraw reservations: (1) pressure from peer states and (2) pressure from human rights treaty bodies conducting periodic reviews. While previous work emphasize domestic factors, our research shows that the international community encourages states to withdraw reservations and strengthen their commitments to human rights and international law.
(5) Solis, Jonathan A., and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2023. "Defending the Watchdogs: How Citizens and Courts Protect the Press." Journal of Human Rights 22(3): 367–385. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
A free and independent press monitors government actions, broadcasts public grievances, and facilitates debate and dissent among citizens. Because of this, some executives run interference – censoring newspapers, harassing journalists, and shutting down media outlets. But, other executives do not. What explains this variation? We argue that executives decide to repress or to respect the press based on the sanctions they anticipate from two important constituencies: courts and citizens. We expect that attacks are less likely where courts can make adverse rulings and where citizens can vote leaders out of office. In addition, we suggest that these constraints can function as substitutes; we anticipate the reductive effect of judicial independence wanes as the level of electoral democracy rises, making courts vital to protecting journalists in less democratic systems. We evaluate these expectations using panel data on executive branch attacks on the press in 175 countries, from 1949 to 2016, and find strong support.
(6) Posthumus, Daniel,* and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2021. "Democratizing Truth: An Analysis of Truth Commissions in the United States." International Journal of Transitional Justice 15(3): 510–532. [Ungated] [Data]
Mentions in practitioner reports: "Racial Reckoning in the United States: Expanding and Innovating on the Global Transitional Justice Experience," by Ashley Quarcoo and Medina Husakovic for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Over the past half-century, numerous transitional justice (TJ) measures have been implemented globally. While much research has examined different TJ modalities in the aftermath of authoritarian rule and armed conflict, a growing body of work recognizes TJ outside of political transitions. We study a noteworthy export from transitional to non-transitional settings: truth commissions. Building on scholarship on TJ in established democracies, we introduce new quantitative data from the Varieties of Truth Commissions Project on truth commissions in an overlooked but significant case: the United States. The data captures 20 past, present and proposed official US truth commissions, most of them at the subnational level. Though their mandates vary considerably, they all address racial injustice, with an emphasis on anti-Indigenous and anti-Black violence. We elaborate on trends in the data and discuss the implications for unfolding efforts to reckon with historical and contemporary racial violence and injustice in the United States.
(7) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2021. "Stay the Hand of Justice? US Resistance to the International Criminal Court." In Boyer, Mark A., and Cameron Thies (Editors). In Forum: Did "America First" Construct America Irrelevant? International Studies Perspectives 22(4): 483–486. [Ungated]
The United States, a key architect of global governance institutions in the twentieth century, has moderated its international engagement in the twenty-first century. In climate governance, the United States signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, then acceded to but ultimately withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. In trade, the United States entered but later abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And in human rights, the United States failed to join core treaties like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The United States’ withdrawal from these and other international regimes sparks the question: Has “America First” made America irrelevant? I focus my answer to this question on the United States’ refusal to join the ICC, the apogee of the international criminal justice system that it helped build. I argue that, despite the efforts of antiglobalists and rule-of-law obstructionists like Donald Trump, the United States remains relevant to international criminal justice and may yet strengthen it, albeit unintentionally.
(8) Rana, Sameer S.J.B.,** and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2021. "Safeguarding Truth: Supporting Children's Participation at Truth Commissions." Journal of Human Rights 20(3): 282–303. [Ungated]
Children are among the most vulnerable groups during periods of repression and conflict, and their exposure to violence can have long-term effects on their development, including how they manage and express feelings of fear, anger, and shame. Children’s engagement in subsequent transitional justice processes, such as truth commissions, can also shape their development and that of their nations, but for the better. Surprisingly, little scholarship considers how commissions have been designed to effectively and responsibly secure children’s involvement, notably their testimonies. We develop a design-based theory of children’s participation in commissions. We then probe, through case studies of the commissions in South Africa, Timor-Leste, and Sierra Leone, the influence of three institutional features on children’s participation: (1) provisions for children in the mandate, (2) targeted outreach, and (3) measures for protection and psychosocial support. We find broad support for the theory and conclude by discussing the implications of the evidence for scholars and practitioners.
(9) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Wayne Sandholtz, and Suzie Mulesky. 2020. "Reserving Rights: Explaining Human Rights Treaty Reservations." International Studies Quarterly 64(4): 785–797. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
Winner of the 2019 Best Paper Award from the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association
International relations scholarship has made significant strides in explaining how states design treaty obligations and why they accept treaty commitments. However, far less attention has been paid to factors that may influence states’ modification of their treaty obligations via reservations. We theorize that states will be more likely to enter reservations when treaty obligations increase compliance costs and policy adjustment costs. More specifically, we expect that demanding provisions, i.e., provisions that create strong, precise obligations requiring domestic action, will enhance the likelihood of reservation. To test our theory, we exploit an original dataset that codes reservations at the provision (treaty–article–paragraph) level for the ten core international human rights treaties. Consistent with our expectations, we find that states are more likely to enter reservations on more demanding treaty provisions. In contrast to prior studies, our results indicate that reservations are not driven purely by state-level characteristics such as regime type or the nature of the legal system. Rather, it appears that states weigh individual treaty obligations and calibrate their commitments accordingly.
Winner of the 2019 Best Paper Award from the Human Rights Section of the International Studies Association
Winner of the 2018 Best Faculty Paper Award from the West Region of the International Studies Association
Watch an explainer video
Since the 1990s, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel and Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) have responded to hundreds of human rights complaints filed by or on behalf of project-affected communities. Yet, little is known about complaint outcomes and factors that enhance the likelihood of complaint success. We theorize that complaints involving indigenous communities, or those pertaining to involuntary resettlement and severe environmental impacts, will be more likely to result in a favorable outcome due to the Bank’s novel policies governing these issues. We also expect that NGO-supported communities are more likely to succeed due to organizational capacity, expertise, and advocacy. We evaluate these expectations using an original dataset of Inspection Panel and CAO complaints (1993–2017). We find strong support for our expectations about indigenous communities, weak support for projects involving involuntary resettlement, and no support for environmentally-risky projects. NGO support is strongly associated with complaint success, perhaps principally due to screening.
(11) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2020. "Demanding Truth: The Global Transitional Justice Network and the Creation of Truth Commissions." International Studies Quarterly 64(3): 609–625. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
Mentions in practitioner reports: "Measuring Results and Monitoring Progress of Transitional Justice Processes," by Mateo Porciuncula for the International Center for Transitional Justice
Since 1970, scores of states have established truth commissions to document political violence. Despite their prevalence and potential consequence, the question of why commissions are adopted in some contexts, but not in others, is not well understood. Relatedly, little is known about why some commissions possess strong investigative powers while others do not. I argue that the answer to both questions lies with domestic and international civil society actors, who are connected by a global transitional justice (TJ) network and who share the burden of guiding commission adoption and design. I propose that commissions are more likely to be adopted where network members can leverage information and moral authority over governments. I also suggest that commissions are more likely to possess strong powers where international experts, who steward TJ best practices, advise governments. I evaluate these expectations by analyzing two datasets in the novel Varieties of Truth Commissions Project, interviews with representatives from international non-governmental organizations, interviews with Guatemalan non-governmental organization leaders, a focus group with Argentinian human rights advocates, and a focus group at the International Center for Transitional Justice. My results indicate that network members share the burden—domestic members are essential to commission adoption, while international members are important for strong commission design.
(12) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2019. "Human Rights versus National Interests: Shifting US Public Attitudes on the International Criminal Court." International Studies Quarterly 63(4): 1065–1078. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]
Runner-Up for the 2020 Steven C. Poe Award from the Human Rights Section of the International Studies Association
Winner of the 2018 Best Paper Award from the Social Sciences Division of the USC Graduate Research Symposium
The United States—an architect of international criminal tribunals in the twentieth century—has since moderated its involvement in international justice. Striking to many observers is the United States’ failure to join the International Criminal Court—the institutional successor to the tribunals the nation helped install in Germany, Japan, the Balkans, and Rwanda. Interestingly, the US public’s support of the ICC increases yearly despite the government’s ambivalence about, and even hostility toward, the Court. Drawing on the US foreign policy public opinion literature, I theorize that human rights frames increase support for joining the ICC among Americans, whereas national interest frames decrease support. I administer an online survey experiment to evaluate these expectations and find consistent support. I additionally test hypotheses from the framing literature in American politics regarding the effect of exposure to two competing frames. I find that participants exposed to competing frames hold more moderate positions than participants exposed to a single frame but differ appreciably from the control group. Crucially, I find that participants’ beliefs about international organizations’ effectiveness and impartiality are equally, if not more, salient than the treatments. Thus, the ICC may be able to mobilize support and pressure policy change by demonstrating effectiveness and impartiality.
(13) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2019. "Designing Truth: Facilitating Perpetrator Testimony at Truth Commissions." Journal of Human Rights 18(1): 92–110. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials]
Distinction in the Senior Exercise (International Relations), Pomona College
Truth commissions aim to promote transparency, accountability, and reconciliation by compiling detailed narratives of political violence. To achieve this end, both victims and perpetrators of abuses must testify. Yet, little is known about how commissions can be designed to facilitate perpetrator testimony. This article develops a theory of perpetrator participation in truth commissions, with a focus on institutional design. The article then evaluates the effectiveness of four design features—amnesties, subpoena powers, dual-party agreements, and spiritual frameworks—in facilitating perpetrator testimony in the truth commissions in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Timor-Leste. The analysis indicates that the theoretical constructs developed are present, functional, and influential for perpetrator participation in the three commissions. And, while no individual design feature is essential, the case studies reveal that perpetrator participation may not be forthcoming without a robust dual-party agreement and/or a resonant spiritual framework. This underscores the importance of normative foundations for perpetrators’ engagement with commissions. Crucially, though advantageous features may be present, the criteria required for them to function may not be met, resulting in no effect or a negative effect on participation.
Pedagogy and Inclusion
(14) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Arturo Sotomayor, Maria Rost Rublee, Meredith Loken, George Karavas, and Constance Duncombe. 2023. "Race and Racial Exclusion in Security Studies: A Survey of Scholars." In Special Issue: Race and Security. Security Studies 32(4–5): 593–621. *Lead Article* [Open Access] [Data]
Increased attention to racialized knowledge and methodological whiteness has swept the political science discipline, especially international relations. Yet an important dimension of race and racism continues to be ignored: the presence and status of scholars of color in the discipline. In contrast to other fields, there is little research on (under)representation of scholars of color in security studies, and no systematic studies of race and racial exclusion that center their voices and experiences. Building on scholarship that contends with the fundamental whiteness of academia and knowledge creation, we present results from a 2019 survey of members of the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association. The data show that scholars of color and white scholars experience the field in dramatically different ways; scholars of color report at greater rates feeling unwelcome, experiencing harassment, and desiring more professional development opportunities. Dozens of studies across academia support these findings.
(15) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Paula M. Pickering, Jaime Settle, and Michael J. Tierney. 2023. "Creating New Knowledge with Undergraduate Students: Institutional Incentives and Faculty Agency." In Special Issue: Undergraduate Involvement in Research. PS: Political Science & Politics 56(4): 512–518. [Open Access]
Undergraduates today face a more demanding and competitive labor market than their parents’ generation. In response, some pursue double majors to signal breadth to potential employers and improve their job prospects. Some also realize that a strong signal of workplace readiness is acquiring in-demand skills acquired through independent and collaborative research. In this article, four professors at an undergraduate-focused public university share experiences working with undergraduates on research, with a focus on the “supply side” of student research training and mentoring. We shed light on how institutions can support differently-situated faculty, facing different career incentives and constraints, to integrate undergraduates in research. We also address the limits of what is possible for faculty-student research and suggest some ways to overcome them.
(16) Irgil, Ezgi, Anne-Kathrin Kreft, Myunghee Lee, Charmaine N. Willis, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2021. "Field Research: A Graduate Student's Guide." International Studies Review 23(4): 1495–1517. [Ungated]
What is field research? Is it just for qualitative scholars? Must it be done in a foreign country? How much time in the field is “enough”? A lack of disciplinary consensus on what constitutes “field research” or “fieldwork” has left graduate students in political science under-informed and thus under-equipped to leverage site-intensive research to address issues of interest and urgency across the subfields. Uneven training in doctoral programs has also left early-career researchers under-prepared for the logistics of fieldwork – from developing networks and effective sampling strategies to building respondents’ trust – and related issues of funding, physical safety, mental health, research ethics, and crisis response. Based on the experience of five junior scholars, this article offers answers to crucial questions that graduate students puzzle over, often without the benefit of others’ “lessons learned.” This practical guide engages theory and praxis, in support of an epistemologically and methodologically pluralistic discipline.
(17) Becker, Megan, Benjamin A.T. Graham, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2021. "The Stewardship Model: An Inclusive Approach to Undergraduate Research." In Mendez Garcia, Matthew, and Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro (Editors). Symposium: Racial and Ethnic Diversity Within Political Science. PS: Political Science & Politics 54(1): 158–162. [Ungated] [Supplementary Materials]
The field of social science lacks diversity, in both academia and industry. One cause is the pipeline problem. Too few students from diverse backgrounds—notably, first- generation college students and students of color—pursue social science undergraduate and graduate degrees. And, those who do are disproportionately likely to exit their respective fields. In response to these twin institutional failures, we have developed a new model of mentored undergraduate research experiences, the Stewardship Model of Mentoring, designed to enhance the presence and status of social scientists from diverse backgrounds through targeted recruitment, technical training, and multi-level mentoring. In this article, we detail the theory and practice of the Stewardship Model within our collaborative research laboratory, and we invite scholars to join a newly-piloted multi-institution survey effort to assess the effects of this and other undergraduate research experiences on the attitudes, skill development, and psycho-social well-being of students from a range of backgrounds.
(18) Becker, Megan, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2020. "Smoothing the Pipeline: A Strategy to Match Graduate Training with the Professional Demands of Professorship." Journal of Political Science Education 16(3): 357–368. [Ungated]
Faculty recruitment and PhD student placement have become increasingly competitive over the past decade. The emphasis of graduate student training—research above all else—often means a difficult transition into the professoriate, where expectations for faculty are broadened to include teaching and service. In response, we offer a model of an organizational structure for research in which (1) graduate students gain opportunities to collaborate on research with faculty, (2) teach in their areas of expertise, and (3) begin their mentoring careers. We argue that these structures will help “smooth the pipeline” between graduate school and academic jobs and will be particularly helpful in supporting graduate students from historically underrepresented groups.
Editor-Reviewed Publications (4)
(1) Murphy, Colleen, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2023. "Transitional Justice for Historical Injustice." In Lawther, Cheryl, and Luke Moffett (Editors). Research Handbook on Transitional Justice, 2nd edition (pp. 421–435). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. [Ungated]
Historical injustice (political violence, for our purpose) is temporally distant and sometimes temporally extended. The transatlantic slave trade and colonialism are two prominent examples. Violence in the past reverberates into the present. Descendants of enslaved Africans in the Americas are subjected to structural, state and interpersonal violence and discrimination, and citizens of former European colonies still pay the consequences of land and labour exploitation and experience the after-effects of being denied self-determination and self-governance. This chapter explores possibilities for transitional justice for historical political violence, with an emphasis on racialized violence. Throughout, we address both slavery and colonialism. While some scholarly and public discussions often separate the two, discussing each in isolation, this separation is a mistake. Slavery was one of the engines of colonialism; the so-called New World was built through the labour of enslaved peoples on stolen Indigenous land. Part of our argument draws attention to the problems that arise when states try to divide history into discrete periods and pursue piecemeal transitional justice. We begin the chapter by discussing some of the reasons why historical injustice should be included in transitional justice. We then turn to the challenges of doing so. Finally, we explore how transitional justice efforts might be re-imagined to better respond to historical injustice.
(2) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2023. “Unequal Justice Under Law.” In Kaur, Ravinder, Sean Molloy, Inderjeet Parmar, Jelena Subotić, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. In Forum: Putin’s Ukraine Aggression. International Politics 69(1): 245–249.
From executions of civilians in Bucha, bombings of residential areas in Borodyanka, and an airstrike on a Kramatorsk train station, to name just a few, there is a growing mountain of evidence of atrocity crimes by Russia in Ukraine. Ukrainian courts, European courts in Poland and elsewhere, and several international courts are on the case, considering a range of violations of international law by Russia. Regrettably, international courts are not equipped to hold powerful leaders and nations accountable for abuses. This is not a defect of the courts themselves, to be sure. Rather, it is a feature of the international system in which these courts are embedded. It is the international system that deprives them of crucial powers and opportunities to mete out equal justice for grave breaches of international law.
Pedagogy and Inclusion
(3) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Charmaine Willis, Myunghee Lee, Anne-Kathrin Kreft, and Ezgi Irgil. 2022. "Fieldwork." In Lorentz, Kevin G., Daniel J. Mallinson, Julia Marin Hellwege, Davin Phoenix, and J. Cherie Strachan (Editors). Strategies for Navigating Graduate School and Beyond (pp. 129–134). Washington, DC: American Political Science Association. [Open Access]
This chapter discusses ‘what is fieldwork’, navigating, planning, and conducting fieldwork. It engages theory and praxis to offer answers to questions that graduate students puzzle over about fieldwork.
(4) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2022. "Research Labs: Concept, Utility, and Application." In Huddleston, R. Joseph, Thomas Jamieson, and Patrick James (Editors). Handbook of Research Methods in International Relations (pp. 729–747). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. [Ungated]
Collaborative research in the social sciences has risen in recent decades. Scholars recognize that they can produce more high-volume, high-impact research when working in pairs and teams than when working alone. But how do scholars collaborate? Some identify colleagues with whom they share substantive research interests, suggest a partnership, and undertake a mutually-beneficial project. Yet collaboration can be, and for many is, so much more. At its most efficient, it is a system, not an ad hoc venture. Its benefits notwithstanding, collaboration as a system is not explicitly taught, particularly in social science disciplines like political science. What means and methods support collaboration, and how can one develop and sustain them? This chapter proposes the laboratory model of research from the natural sciences. This model has until fairly recently been underappreciated and underused to ground and structure political science research, including in International Relations, where labs hold especially great promise.
Working Papers (6)
(1) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Stephen Chaudoin. "Complementarity and Public Views on Overlapping Domestic and International Courts." Revise and resubmit at Journal of Politics.
Mentions in practitioner reports: "From Building Bombs to Building Futures: A new U.S. approach to mass atrocity prevention," by Win Without War
Can international organizations (IOs) turn the tide of resistance to their authority? We consider a class of IOs bound by the complementarity principle: they only act when domestic institutions fail. IOs like the International Criminal Court (ICC) have placed great faith in complementarity as an argument to rally support for international action and spur domestic action. We evaluate the effectiveness of complementarity arguments using the largest survey experiment on the ICC to date, with more than 10,000 participants from five countries whose cooperation could be pivotal for the Court: Georgia, Israel, the Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. We find very limited evidence that complementarity arguments improve public support for either ICC investigations or domestic investigations. This suggests that a major argument thought to legitimate IOs may not restore public support. The local context heavily conditions whether pro-IO arguments resonate with the target public audiences.
(2) Scott, Jamil S., Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Historical Violence and Public Attitudes Toward Justice." Revise and resubmit at International Journal of Transitional Justice.
What is the impact of historical violence on people's attitudes toward proposed transitional justice (TJ) policies? Scholarship demonstrates that direct exposure to violence influences political attitudes like trust in government. But little work considers the relationship between historical violence and TJ attitudes among descendant communities. We conduct a survey experiment on justice for racial terror lynchings, drawing on a sample of Black Americans in Maryland, USA, where a truth commission has recently been convened to address lynchings. We find that respondents exposed to information on historical lynching violence are more likely to support symbolic TJ measures (e.g., apologies and memorial markers) than respondents exposed to information on contemporary police violence. Regarding material TJ policies (e.g., monetary compensation and community projects), we find no notable difference between groups. Our research contributes to scholarship on racial violence and racial justice in American politics and scholarship on TJ in comparative and international politics.
(3) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Claire B. Crawford. "Performing Truth? Examining Transitional Justice Practice in West Africa." In Garibian, Sévane (Editor). Right to Truth, Truth(s) through Rights: Mass Crimes Impunity and Transitional Justice.
In the last five decades, transitional justice (TJ) institutions have spread rapidly around the world. Scholars cite this trend as evidence of norm spread, specifically diffusion of the norm of acknowledging and providing restitution for human rights violations. But the spread of institutions does not necessarily mean that underlying norms are being diffused and accepted; it can also mean that those norms are being instrumentalized, even co-opted. TJ adoption may reflect, therefore, a desire to perform rather than a substantive commitment. We propose that the difference can be discerned as early as the design stage, with implications for TJ institutions’ operations, outputs, and outcomes. We conceptualize a spectrum: At the lower end, performance, TJ mechanisms are poorly designed, under-resourced, and under-supported by governments, and, at the higher end, substance, they are well designed, adequately resourced, and strongly supported by governments. To begin to disentangle performance and substance, we study truth commissions, generally the first TJ measures implemented after political violence, and we focus on Africa, home to one-third of all global commissions. We analyze data on institutional design from the Varieties of Truth Commissions Project and produce case studies of three West African commissions. We find strong evidence of performative TJ: Many African governments have created truth commissions that are ill-equipped to uncover the truth. Consequently, they have served to (re)produce, rather than combat, impunity.
(4) Brutger, Ryan, Richard T. Clark, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Rules of Engagement: Elite Cues and Public Support for International Organizations."
What shapes public and elite perceptions of international organizations (IOs)? Existing work debates the extent to which publics and elites diverge in their assessments of IOs and what may drive them to converge. We highlight the importance of rhetorical cues in shaping both public and elite perceptions of such organizations. In particular, we posit that the tone of rhetoric matters. More aggressive rhetoric promoting disengagement from IOs should reduce support of these organizations among both public and elite audiences, and especially among conservatives. This can drive public and elite views to converge. Focusing on the World Trade Organization, we find evidence for our contentions through an original survey experiment administered to a representative sample of Americans as well as an elite study embedded in the Teaching, Research, and International Policy project's 2022 survey wave.
(5) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Alan J. Simmons. "Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions?"
Do Americans support war crimes prosecutions? Historically, the United States has considered itself a torchbearer of international criminal justice, leading the establishment of tribunals in Nuremberg, Tokyo, The Hague, and Arusha. The United States even participated in the drafting of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet the nation was not the subject of an international criminal tribunal – until the ICC's Afghanistan investigation, which covers, among others, the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban, and U.S. military and intelligence personnel. Previous scholarship shows Americans support the ICC and U.S. membership. However, almost all of this research precedes the Afghanistan investigation, leaving open two important questions: (1) is the public's support conditional on the ICC not investigating and prosecuting U.S. personnel and (2) what discursive frames (i.e., arguments) support or undermine the ICC's efforts? Extending research on U.S. foreign policy public opinion, we evaluate the proposition that human rights arguments will increase and national interest arguments will decrease support for the ICC's work in Afghanistan. We test this proposition using an online survey experiment. The upshot is Americans are fairly fixed in their opinions and the vast majority support war crimes prosecutions.
(6) Scott, Jamil S., Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Racial Violence and Public Attitudes Toward Justice."
Do members of different social groups prefer different types of justice to address the same episodes of political violence? While some scholarship demonstrates that exposure to violence shapes political attitudes like political tolerance and trust in government, little work considers attitudes toward justice and how such attitudes are shaped by one's social location. We conduct a survey experiment to understand preferences for justice for historical and contemporary racial violence in the United States. We conceive of justice broadly, encompassing apologies, memorial projects, and reparations. We evaluate the influence of respondents' social location, specifically their race, consistent with the scholarship on community and intergenerational experiences of harm. Our results are important because they describe the conditions under which Americans support restitution for historical wrongdoing. Our project thus contributes to the literature on racial justice in American politics and research on transitional justice in comparative politics and international relations.
Works in Progress (10)
(1) Far, Nastaran,* Hailey Robertson,* Adriana Rudling,*** and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Confronting Truth: A Theory of Transitional Justice in Established Democracies."
Why do established democracies adopt transitional justice (TJ) institutions like truth commissions? Three explanations dominate extant scholarly accounts of TJ adoption: (1) elite bargains, (2) power struggle between elites and the masses, and (3) external pressure from foreign governments, international organizations, and human rights non-governmental organizations. However, these explanations do not travel well beyond ideal-typical TJ settings, namely countries transitioning from civil conflict and autocratic rule. Drawing on experiences of TJ in two of the world’s longest-standing democracies—the US commission on Japanese relocation and internment and the Canadian commission on Indian residential schools—this paper inductively builds theory about the relationship between interest groups’ access to legislative and judicial institutions in consolidated democracies and the delivery of TJ institutions. Following this inductive exercise, we trace how the commissions’ founding and design shaped their ability to produce a comprehensive account of abuses and influenced the implementation of their recommendations.
(2) Chaudhry, Suparna, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Violence and Punishment: Framing Public Attitudes in Death Penalty Democracies."
What do people think is the proper punishment for heinous crimes and can human rights non-governmental organizations (HROs) change people's preferences? Prior scholarship has examined government policy but largely neglected public opinion. In particular, previous research has not evaluated the public's sensitivity to human rights and effectiveness arguments made by HROs. To answer this question, we leverage survey experiments on capital punishment for the crime of rape in India, Botswana, and United States. While the death penalty is conventionally regarded as inconsistent with international human rights standards and an ineffective deterrent, it is used in many countries around the world, including in what we term "death penalty democracies," to punish serious offenses like rape. We expect that individuals who are exposed to human rights and effectiveness arguments will be less likely to support the death penalty as a punishment for rape and more likely to support alternatives like imprisonment and complementary remedies like victim compensation. Our results are important because they indicate the extent to which HROs can sway democratic publics toward human rights-compatible policies.
(3) Siddiqui, Zoha,* Daniel Posthumus,* and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Proposing Truth: Unpacking Agenda Setting in U.S. Truth Commissions."
Truth commissions are widely used by countries to address past political violence and are increasingly being adopted by democracies and at the sub-national level. In the United States, an overlooked but important transitional justice setting, we see the convergence of these two trends, with approximately 20 past, present, and proposed truth commissions, the majority of which are at the subnational level, and many of which followed widespread racial justice protests in 2020. This paper seeks to understand the agenda-setting process behind these commissions, i.e., why these commissions are established and why they are designed as they are. Leveraging a public opinion survey, elite interviews, and an original dataset of U.S. truth commission mandates, we explain truth commission agenda setting in the United States.
(4) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Megan Shannon, Cody D. Eldredge, and Christina Boyes. "Reputation Management in the International Human Rights Regime: Why Non-Democratic States Withdraw Treaty Reservations."
What causes non-democracies to withdraw their reservations to human rights treaties? Research has begun to uncover non-democratic regimes’ unique interactions with international law, exploring behaviors beyond treaty ratification and compliance such as reservations. Recent work shows that non-democratic states, like democratic states, embrace reservations as a tool to modulate their treaty commitments. Yet the international community, including peer states and treaty committees, often applies pressure on non-democracies to withdraw them. To what extent does this pressure encourage non-democratic regimes to withdraw reservations and improve their treaty commitments? We argue that non-democracies are likely to respond to two forms of international social pressure – treaty bodies’ periodic reviews and peer states’ formal objections – in distinct ways. First, we propose that non-democracies are less likely to withdraw reservations when facing objections from fellow treaty members, as objections primarily originate with Western democracies. By contrast, we suggest that non-democracies will be more likely to withdraw reservations when facing treaty body reviews because these reviews, and the reports they produce, come from politically neutral bodies consisting of experts from diverse regions and political regimes.
(5) Reynolds, Alyson,* Chabeli Yumang,* and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Mapping Truth: What Can Geospatial Techniques Teach Us About Transitional Justice ?"
Transitional justice (TJ) is an interdisciplinary academic field that seeks to understand why and how governments redress political violence, and to what effect. Traditionally, scholars have analyzed TJ measures such as trials, truth commissions, and reparations using qualitative data and methods, with a quantitative turn in the last two decades. Quantitative researchers have investigated the causes and consequences of various TJ processes using cross-national datasets, surveys, and experiments. This work has substantially advanced the field, facilitating global analyses of TJ cases and aiding generalization across cases. There have also been some attempts to map the global TJ landscape, though scholarship has not centered spatial data. This is puzzling, given the importance of space: victims of human rights abuses suffer in particular places – which human rights investigators, relatives, and the broader public later visit. Victims are also commemorated in particular places – through museums, monuments, and memorial markers. This paper explores the geography of memory in an important case, Mauritius, where memory sites punctuate the built environment, confronting the remnants of colonization, slavery, and indentured servitude. For the first time in TJ research, we apply geographic information systems (GIS) to map memory, leveraging historical census records, plantation data, and government reports.
(6) Rudling, Adriana,*** Elijah Tsai,* Kelebogile Zvobgo, and Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm. "Extending Truth: Follow-Up Committees and Implementation of Truth Commission Recommendations."
Truth commissions, quasi-judicial bodies established by states around the world to address patterns of human rights abuses, have drawn increased scholarly attention in recent years. Both backward- and forward-looking in design and function, commissions in their final reports make recommendations to remedy past abuses and prevent future abuses. While much scholarship on transitional justice has neglected truth commission recommendations, recent work investigates their production and implementation, considering such issues as timing, civil society activism, and the work of regional human rights institutions. Some of this research suggests an especially important role for follow-up bodies in facilitating implementation. Yet follow-up institutions vary substantially across cases, with some given specific mandates to monitor, evaluate, and advocate for implementation of recommendations, and others given a broader remit, encompassing such issues as human rights education and the preservation of archives. Follow-up mechanisms also vary in form, structure, and length of operation. Leveraging novel data on truth commission recommendations in Africa and Latin America, we assess whether and to what degree the type and quality of follow-up bodies affects implementation.
(7) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. "Teaching Research Inside and Outside the Classroom." In Murphy, Michael, and Misbah Hyder (Editors). Teaching Political Science and International Relations for Early Career Instructors. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
The emphasis on research above all else in much political science graduate training often leaves early-career scholars under-prepared for the professoriate. While research is highly valued in hiring, tenure, and promotion processes at top research universities and small liberal arts colleges, teaching and service are also important. In this chapter, I discuss several techniques I have learned and refined over time that enable me to effectively teach undergraduate students how to conduct social science research, both inside and outside the classroom, all while progressing my research pipeline. I also discuss how I translated my experience from an R1 to an R2 institution, where greater emphasis is placed on teaching.
(7) Rudling, Adriana,*** and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Localizing and Globalizing Truth: U.S. Transitional Justice in Comparative Context." In Michel, Verónica, Robyn Holder, and Alice Bosma (Editors). Handbook on Victims, Rights, and Justice. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing
Mainstream transitional justice (TJ) scholarship has elided the United States (U.S.) in theory and analysis. This is despite U.S. influence in global TJ practice and in world politics more generally. One reason the country is excluded in research is because it is a non-traditional case; generally, when scholars think of likely candidates for TJ, they think of countries exiting authoritarianism, armed conflict, and other defined periods of violence and repression. Neglecting, even avoiding, non-paradigmatic cases is problematic, however: recent work indicates that TJ in non-transitional contexts is on the rise, amid demands for truth and justice from historically marginalized groups. Taking national truth commissions as an example, non-transitional cases accounted for more than half of global cases in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Non-transitional countries like the U.S. have also witnessed the growth of subnational truth commissions. Building on nascent efforts to “case” non-transitional TJ settings, this chapter discusses the past, present and future of TJ practice in the U.S, including what lessons the country has given the world, what lessons it has gleaned from the world, and what the U.S. and global cases may yet learn from each other. We write with the belief and conviction that survivors and victims of human rights violations and their families deserve to have their experiences acknowledged and their governments held to account – regardless of where they come from, the political regime they live under, or how neatly their local context fits within existing scholarly paradigms.
(9) Sandholtz, Wayne, and Kelebogile Zvobgo (Section Editors). "A History of Norms Research in International Relations." In Orchard, Phil, Antje Wiener, and Sassan Gholiagha (Editors). The Oxford Handbook on Norms Research in International Relations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Research on the origins, functioning, effects, and evolution of international norms has expanded dramatically over the past 25 years. This section assesses that development, asking contributors to revisit key works in light of subsequent advances in theory and empirical research. An early insight of this body of research was that the norms that guide behaviour in international relations emerge and develop through processes of social interaction and contestation. A first generation of contributions established that norms have identifiable effects on behaviour, shaping the policy horizons of governing elites as well as the policy demands of a broader range of political and social actors. Subsequent work has built on these fundamental insights. Research has since shown that norms establish a range of acceptable behaviours and that actors constantly seek to shift that range. Some actors – activists, NGOs, international courts, leading states – work to shrink that range, whereas others attempt to expand it. Norms scholarship has also focused on actors, exploring how they reason about norms and how international norms can reshape how they define their interests. Norm conflict has also emerged as a focus of research, examining how, in a world of multiple overlapping systems of norms, actors deal with norms that are in tension with each other. Research has addressed the dynamics of norm change, recognising that many international norms are in a state of constant flux, as actors seek to apply norms to new kinds of problems or seek to shift the interpretation of norms. The selection of key works is organised around these leading questions that have guided norms research and contributed to its emergence as an important subfield in international relations.
(10) Sandholtz, Wayne, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Understanding International Norms." In Orchard, Phil, Antje Wiener, and Sassan Gholiagha (Editors). The Oxford Handbook on Norms Research in International Relations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
About 25 years ago, the study of international norms emerged as a social scientific project. Political scientists had taken an interest in international law long before – around the turn of the last century – but their approach tended to follow the paths worn by international lawyers, assessing international rules in formal rather than behavioural terms. The behavioural turn shifted the focus, seeking to evaluate the effects of norms and norm contestation on political and policy outcomes. Since then, the study of norms has established itself among the core concerns in the analysis of international relations. This chapter assesses major currents in the study of international norms as these have developed over the last two decades. Two questions animate that assessment: (1) To what extent has a stable theoretical core emerged to orient research?, and (2) To what extent has empirical investigation contributed to a cumulative understanding of norms and their effects in international relations? The chapter explores these questions in sections that address core themes in the study of international norms. The first section focuses on defining norms. The following section addresses how norms research has understood the crucial interconnection between norms and interests. A third section evaluates developments in the understanding of norm interactions, that is, on how norms in one substantive domain affect or interact with norms in another area. Research has examined both cross-fertilisation among normative domains and tensions among them. Finally, the chapter assesses research on norm dynamics. Many international norms are in a state of constant flux, as actors seek to apply norms to new kinds of problems or seek to shift the interpretation of norms. A brief concluding section summarises the areas of progress and some of the open questions that future research might address.
* Undergraduate student co-author
** Master's student co-author
*** Post-doctoral fellow co-author