Explaining Human Rights Abuses: Comparing Contemporary Factors and Historical Factors

by Yonatan Lupu ~ Mar 02, 2017

Why and when do governments abuse human rights? Eric Posner and Adam Chilton argue that long-term historical factors shape contemporary human rights practices. They provide novel evidence that many historical variables emphasized in the economic development literature are correlated with contemporary human rights practices. This article continues the process of testing their argument by conducting several statistical analyses. The analysis yields several key findings. First, the historical variables emphasized by Posner and Chilton, collectively, are fairly powerful in terms of predicting human rights abuses. Second, the historical variables perform less well at predicting contemporary abuses in more populous countries. Third, contemporary judicial independence predicts contemporary abuses in ways not captured by historical variables. Fourth, historical variables perform relatively poorly at predicting abuses during civil wars, when abuses are often at their worst. Finally, many of the individual historical variables do not add significant explanatory power to models that include contemporary variables. The key exceptions are settler mortality and European share of the population during colonization, suggesting that future analyses of the roles of these factors may be especially helpful in improving our understanding of these phenomena.

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