Torture Research

Detailed Case Studies

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Gomez, Mayra. 2003. Human Rights in Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: A Sociological Perspective on Human Rights Abuse. New York: Routledge.
Gomez studies abuses of personal integrity rights, or torture, killing, and arbitrary imprisonment. Her book is one of the better studies of torture at the macro level; her case study approach allows a cross-national comparison without falling into the oversimplification and use of poor data that affects many statistical studies. She studies both increases and decreases in the amount of torture and killing.
One problem with her study is its broad, diffused focus. Her model has so many causes and there are so many interactions among causes that is difficult to make any predictions from her data or to apply her theory effectively to other cases. In fairness, this may well be a reflection of reality, not a limitation of her theory; the causes of torture at the country level may well be so complex and contingent that reducing them to a few factors and making predictions may be impossible.
Causal factors include shifts in the geopolitical environment, external support, external threats, external pressure, international peace initiatives, international normative criticism, internal threats and pressures, sudden and undemocratic regime changes, and state fragmentation.
Her findings: The same causal changes could contribute either to an increase or decrease in human rights abuses depending on the context. For example, the end of the cold war (a geopolitical shift) helped stabilize the state and therefore helped end torture in El Salvador and Nicaragua, but was destabilizing in Cuba and increased torture. Similarly, external support can be stabilizing and decrease torture (USSR support of Cuba), or destabilizing and increase torture (US support of El Salvador).
External and internal threats always increase torture, as do sudden, violent regime changes . External pressure can decrease torture in some circumstances. Internal pressures can be seen as threats where internal violent groups exist – regimes tend to perceive internal pressure groups as allies of the violent groups.
International normative criticism more often causes a change in the character of abuse, to methods that are less easily observed, not a decrease in the amount of abuse.
International peace initiatives were the one consistently good influence on reducing torture, as they had a very good effect on decreasing torture in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Jones, Seth G., Olga Oliker, Peter Chalk, C. Christine Fair, Rollie Lal, and James Dobbins. 2007. Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform? U.S. Internal Security Assistance to Repressive and Transitioning Regimes. Washington, DC: RAND.
They compared El Salvador, Uzabekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, from 1992 to the present, to see if U.S. assistance helped the effectiveness and accountability/human rights record of security forces. They found that U.S. assistance helped effectiveness only in Afghanistan, largely because the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s security forces was nearly zero to begin with. U.S. assistance helped human rights very slightly in all but Uzbekistan, according to them, but they did not really account for other factors, in my opinion. They conclude that U.S. assistance only helps where the countries are already interested in reform.

Ron, James. 1997. “Varying Methods of State Violence.” International Organization 51(2), 275-300.
Ron applies a number of theories of state action to Israel’s decision to change in 1991-2 from severe physical torture (mainly beatings) to more subtle methods. He argues that states want to be viewed as legitimate actors in the international arena, and are therefore influenced by the international discourse of state legitimacy. Being seen as an illegitimate state has negative consequences, so states take action to meet international norms of legitimacy. Increasing global legitimization of human rights and limits on state violence have affected states’ behavior.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Israel faced extensive international criticism for torturing Palestinians. In response, it took steps to make its methods more legitimate. They increased state control over torture and changed from beatings to a type of torture that left no marks. The state argued that torture was legitimate and appropriate because it was used carefully, rationally, in a controlled manner, and  medical supervision.
Ron compares Israel’s actions against Palestinians with their use of repression in southern Lebanon. Unlike the Palestinians, the southern Lebanese have few allies in the world polity and little ability to publicize their problems. Israel was less restrained by legitimacy concerns and thus continued to use physical violence instead of psychological torture.
Ron concludes that “disappearances, massacres, arbitrary executions, and the most obvious forms of torture… are so easily picked up by global monitoring agencies and have become so reviled that they become a significant liability to their practitioners,” so states like Israel that need legitimacy avoid them.

Sikkink, Kathryn.  1993.  “Human Rights, Principled Issue-Networks, and Sovereignty in Latin America.”  International Organization 47:411-441.

Van Bergen, Jennifer, and Douglas Valentine. 2005. “The Dangerous World of Indefinite Detentions: Vietnam to Abu Ghraib.” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 37: 449-508.

Argues that “where you find administrative detentions, you are likely to find torture,” due to “the nature of administrative detention itself: the absence of human rights safeguards and normal legal guarantees such as due process, habeas corpus, fair trial, confidential legal counsel, and judicial review; vague and confusing definitions, standards, and procedures; inadequate adversarial procedural oversight; excessive Executive Branch power stemming from prolonged emergencies; and the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) or other secret,

thus unaccountable, Executive Branch agencies.” Uses evidence from the Vietnam War and the “global war on terror” to support this argument.

Walker, Scott, and Steven C. Poe.  “Does Cultural Diversity Affect Countries’ Respect for Human Rights?”  Human Rights Quarterly 24 (2002), 237-263.
They found a small and almost insignificant correlation between homogeneity and human rights, mainly explained by the number of homogenous developed countries.  This is good news, in a way, in that it implies that nothing prevents ethnically homogenous countries from achieving human rights.


Written by tortureresearch

January 27, 2010 at 8:55 pm

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