U.N. General Assembly

Book project

States in the global south have developed extensive mechanisms within their regional organizations to monitor and enforce their own compliance with international norms, including sometimes extensive monitoring by these regional organizations. What explains the decision to create and expand these mechanisms? After at least a century of resisting imperial and colonial domination and decades of using regional organizations to “jealously” protect their sovereignty, why have so many states adopted positions that compromise on non-intervention? I argue that states created these mechanisms as part of a strategy to subtly challenge the authority of powerful Western states in order to increase their self-determination.

As shifting global norms legitimized and encouraged enforcement by powerful states, states in the global south faced a new decision: not whether human rights should be enforced, but who should enforce them. Rejecting one-sided enforcement by former colonial and imperial powers, these states attempted to shift enforcement out of the global level and into their regional organizations through a two-part strategy in which they created, accepted, and expanded regional mechanisms and then simultaneously argued that extra-regional actors should defer to regional enforcement.

I find a clear and persistent pattern of states preferring regional enforcement to enforcement by extra-regional actors. Counter to the expectations of existing research, states that were proponents of international human rights were among the most vocal critics of global enforcement. States that were themselves guilty of abusing human rights were willing to delegate more authority at the regional level than the global level. These otherwise puzzling behaviors can be explained by the drive for international self-determination. In Latin America and Africa, faced with mounting pressure from the West that stood to undermine their self-determination, states moved towards regional intervention. Conversely, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, states encountered little to no enforcement pressure, and regional mechanisms came about much later and were granted very little authority.

Working papers

Under review
Why would a “good” state that complies with a norm oppose international action in support of the norm? I refer to this type of behavior as ambivalence, and I argue that it occurs when a state has been marginalized from the process of norm consolidation. In developing this idea, I outline the process of norm contestation between norm proponents. This process tends to disadvantage weaker states, who may become increasingly alienated from a norm as their own interests, values, and priorities are excluded. For states that previously supported the norm, they may become ambivalent, acting in ways that oppose, undermine, or reject the norm at the international level, referring to the norm as an external imposition, even while they continue to show high levels of respect for the norm domestically. I explore this phenomenon in the case of ambivalence of the Commonwealth Caribbean states towards human rights. These states were early supporters of human rights, and they have strong, consistent records of democracy and respect for civil and political liberties. However, the failure of the international human rights movement to address the historical legacies of slavery and colonization led to the region’s growing alienation and lack of identification with human rights. This has manifested in ambivalence towards LGBT rights, where a gradual improvement in domestic respect for these rights has occurred alongside continued resistance to international action.

Works in progress

Work on backlash to international institutions has so far focused on nationalist campaigns to “reclaim” sovereignty. However, another prevalent form of backlash has occurred against a subset of institutions that are viewed to be the most associated with global power inequalities. Rather than rejecting international institutions altogether, this backlash has been coupled with an increase in engagement with other institutions that are perceived as more egalitarian and democratic. I argue that this backlash is the result of the loss of international self-determination, or the ability to exercise a voice in forming and implementing international policy. This represents an under-explored form of democratic deficit in global governance.

International human rights are typically viewed within a domestic framework, as a means for limiting abuses perpetuated by state governments against their own citizens. I show that states in the global south have tended to prioritize an international framework in which powerful states are guilty of violating the human rights of individuals in the developing world through racial discrimination, economic exploitation, the concentration of resources in the developed world, and the long-term damages caused by colonialism and slavery. These different frameworks reflect a difference in viewpoints as to what the most pressing forms of human rights abuses are and who is responsible for them.

(with Melissa Samarin)
Why do authoritarian states work through regional organizations? We argue that in illiberal regional organizations, member states are able to publicly engage in repressive behavior, forming pockets of cooperation through which they can respond to domestic and international threats to their regime. These organizations, which include the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Peoples of America (ALBA), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), allow states to engage in their preferred form of governance, while muting external criticism, avoiding judgment from cooperation partners, and enhancing domestic legitimacy. Working through a regional organization allows member states to send signals to domestic and international audiences that threaten domestic opponents, makes their actions harder for international watchdogs to criticize, and shapes alternative norms within their own organizations. Because they are able to act publicly through these organizations, they can also be more effective at suppressing threats to their regimes.

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