top of page

Peer-Reviewed Publications (16)​

Political Science

(1) Boyes, Christina, Cody Eldredge, Megan Shannon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Costly Signals in the International Human Rights Regime: Why States Withdraw Treaty Reservations." Forthcoming at British Journal of Political Science.


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 emphasizes domestic factors, our research shows that the international community encourages states to withdraw reservations and strengthen their commitments to human rights and international law.



(2) Mulesky, Suzie, Wayne Sandholtz, and Kelebogile Zvobgo"Do Human Rights Treaty Obligations Matter for Ratification?" Forthcoming in Journal of Human Right​s.

[Supplementary Materials] [Data]

Why do some human rights treaties receive rapid and near universal commitment from states while others take decades for the majority of states to ratify? We analyze new data that code every provision of ten global human rights treaties for the strength and precision of the obligations they contain. We classify obligations that are strong, precise, and that require domestic action as “demanding.” We hypothesize that treaties containing more of these demanding obligations would be seen as more costly to ratify because they imply potentially greater policy adaptation or compliance costs. Event history analyses are consistent with that hypothesis. The addition of 15 demanding treaty obligations decreases the likelihood of ratification by over 20 percent, similar to the effect of moving from democracy to autocracy. This effect is consistent when controlling for various treaty, state, and global level factors that may also influence a state’s decision to ratify.


(3) Solis, Jonathan A., and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2023. "Defending the Watchdogs: How Citizens and Courts Protect the Press."  Journal of Human Right​s. Online First.

[Ungated] [Supplementary Materials]

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.

(4Posthumus, 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]

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.

(5) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2021. "Stay the Hand of Justice? US Resistance to the International Criminal Court." In Boyer, Mark A., and Cameron Thies (Editors). Forum: Did "America First" Construct America Irrelevant? International Studies Perspectives 22(4): 483–486.


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.

(6) 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.


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.



(7) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Wayne Sandholtz, and Suzie Mulesky. 2020. "Reserving Rights: Explaining Human Rights Treaty Reservations." International Studies Quarterly 64(4): 785–797.

  • Winner of the 2019 Best Paper Award from the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association

[Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]


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.

(8) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Benjamin A.T. Graham. 2020. "The World Bank as an Enforcer of Human Rights." Journal of Human Rights 19(4): 425–448.

  • 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


[Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data]


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.

(9) 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]


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.

(10) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2019. "Human Rights versus National Interests: Shifting US Public Attitudes on the International Criminal Court." International Studies Quarterly 63(4): 1065–1078.

  • 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

  • Read six related articles from April 2019, March 2020June 2020, February 2021 [1, 2] and April 2021 in The Washington Post


[Ungated] [Supplementary Materials] [Data


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.

(11) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2019. "Designing Truth: Facilitating Perpetrator Testimony at Truth Commissions." Journal of Human Rights 18(1): 92–110.

[Ungated] [Supplementary Materials

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


(12) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Arturo Sotomayor, Maria Rost Rublee, Meredith Loken, George Karavas, and Constance Duncombe. "Race and Racial Exclusion in Security Studies: A Survey of Scholars." Forthcoming in Security Studies. Special Issue: Race and Security.

  • Read a related article from the Summer 2020 print issue of Foreign Policy

Increased attention to racialized knowledge and methodological whiteness has swept the political science discipline, in particular International Relations. Yet an important dimension of race and racism continues to be ignored: the presence and status of scholars of color. 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 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 (ISSS) of the International Studies Association (ISA). 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 networking and professional development opportunities.

(13) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, Paula M. Pickering, Jaime Settle, and Michael J. Tierney. 2023. "Creating New Knowledge with Undergraduate Students: Institutional Incentives and Faculty Agency." PS: Political Science & Politics. First View.


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.

(14) 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.


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.

(15) 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): 158162.

[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.

(16) 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.




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)​

Political Science

(1) Murphy, Colleen, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. 2023. "Transitional Justice for Historical Injustice." In Lawther, Cheryl, and Luke Moffett (Editors). Research Handbook on Transitional Justice. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. In press.

(2) Zvobgo, Kelebogile. 2023. “Unequal Justice Under Law.” In Kaur, Ravinder, Sean Molloy, Inderjeet Parmar, Jelena Subotić, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. Forum: Putin’s Ukraine Aggression. International Politics 69(1): 245–249.


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. Washington, DC: American Political Science Association.

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.


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) Scott, Jamil S., Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Historical Violence and Public Attitudes Toward Justice." Revise and resubmit at Politics, Groups, and Identities.

  • Read a related article from June 2019 in The Conversation

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.



(2) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Stephen Chaudoin. "Complementarity and Public Views on Overlapping Domestic and International Courts."

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.

(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) Gillooly, Shauna, Daniel Solomon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Co-Opting Truth: Explaining Quasi-Judicial Institutions in Authoritarian Regimes."


What accounts for the creation, design, and outcomes 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 outcomes. 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. 

(5) Byrne, Alexandra,** Bilen Zerie,** and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Producing Truth: Public Memory Projects in Post-Violence Societies."

How do societies remember historical political violence? This paper draws on an original dataset of nearly 200 proposed memorialization projects in 28 post-violence countries, from 1970 to 2018. These projects include the removal of  monuments, the installation of museums, and the inauguration of national days of remembrance. We develop a typology and inductively generate a theory of the political contests and conflicts that are likely to be triggered by different memory projects, contests and conflicts that we expect influence the likelihood of project initiation and completion. We conduct an initial probe of our theory using the new data.

(6) Zvobgo, Kelebogile, and Alan J. Simmons. "Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions?"

Do Americans support war crimes prosecutions? Historically, the United States has touted itself as a standard bearer of international criminal justice, leading the establishment of multiple international tribunals, from Germany and Japan to the Balkans and Rwanda. The United States even participated in the drafting of the governing treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet the nation has never itself been the subject of an international criminal tribunal – until now. In 2020, the ICC's chief prosecutor opened a formal investigation into alleged U.S. atrocity crimes relating to the war in Afghanistan. Prior research shows that Americans support the ICC and U.S. membership. However, this work 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 support or undermine the ICC's efforts? Building on the literature on U.S. foreign policy public opinion, we theorize that human rights frames increase and national interest frames decrease support for the ICC's work in Afghanistan. We administer an online survey experiment to test these expectations. We also explore Americans' preferred venue for war crimes prosecutions: the ICC, U.S. domestic courts, or foreign domestic courts.

Works in Progress (7)

(1) Far, Nastaran,** Hailey Robertson,** 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) Brutger, Ryan, Richard T. Clark, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Rules of Engagement: Elite Cues and Public Support for International Organizations."

Do the publics of Western democracies support engaging or disengaging from international organizations (IOs)? While scholarship on state commitments and compliance is well established, little work considers citizen attitudes. This is a troubling omission, as IOs seek compliance constituencies, especially amid growing state defiance and withdrawal from IOs. We argue that citizens weigh elite cues about the potential benefits of IO engagement and disengagement, and judge the tone of elite messages, either loud or quiet. We develop a typology of elite strategies vis-à-vis IOs – loud engagement, quiet engagement, quiet disengagement, and loud disengagement – and evaluate each strategy’s influence on public opinion in the United States. We propose that publics generally favor quiet engagement in IOs to other strategies; but political ideology moderates responses to different strategies. We expect that liberals respond more favorably to cues about engagement, whereas conservatives respond more favorably to cues about disengagement. In addition, we propose that liberals prefer a quiet approach to engagement and disengagement, whereas conservatives prefer a loud approach. Focusing on U.S. public attitudes toward the ICC and WTO, we field an online survey experiment to test these propositions.

(5) Boyes, Christina, Cody Eldredge, Megan Shannon, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Costly Signals in the International Human Rights Regime: Why States Withdraw Treaty Reservations."


Research has begun to uncover the unique interaction between autocratic regimes and commitments to international law, exploring behaviors of autocracies beyond ratification and compliance. One mechanism by which autocracies both commit to and maintain flexibility in their commitments is using reservations. Yet while autocracies may embrace reservations, the international community often pushes back to encourage the withdrawal of reservations. How effective is the international community in encouraging reservation withdrawals, and can the international community target autocracies to improve their commitments? This paper begins from the premise that autocrats must both appease domestic actors and consider international reputation effects when making commitments to international law. Using large-N quantitative analysis and case studies, we show how these incentives vary across regime types and affect reservation withdrawal.  Social pressure via state objections and periodic reviews by treaty bodies encourage autocrats to withdraw reservations. This paper helps scholars better understand how and why autocracies make and withdraw reservations, and if and how efforts by the international community change the behavior of autocracies within treaty regimes. 

(6) Sandholtz, Wayne, and Kelebogile Zvobgo (Section Editors). "A History of Norms Research." In Orchard, Phil, Antje Wiener, and Sassan Gholiagha (Editors). Handbook on Norms Research. Editorial support for five chapters.

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 behavior 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 behavior, 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 behaviors 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 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, recognizing 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 will be organised around these leading questions that have guided norms research and contributed to its emergence as an important subfield in international relations.

(7) Sandholtz, Wayne, and Kelebogile Zvobgo. "Dynamics of Norm Change." In Orchard, Phil, Antje Wiener, and Sassan Gholiagha (Editors). Handbook on Norms Research.

Master's student co-author

** Undergraduate student co-author

bottom of page