A Red Flag for Public Goods? The Correlates of Closing Civic Space

Governments around the world increasingly restrict independent civil society organizations (CSOs). Theories of civil society organizations—whether they see these organizations as contributing to a process of norm diffusion or providing third party ‘fire alarm’ monitoring—converge on these organizations’ importance for ensuring government compliance with global governance norms. Indeed, practitioners warn against a host of detrimental consequences of governments restricting the activities of CSOs and ‘shrinking civic space’. While the causal pathways to compliance differ, a joint implication is that government-imposed restrictions on CSO activities will signal public goods failure. Such restrictions are a useful and parsimonious screening device for a lack of compliance with global standards such as human rights, rights at work, environmental protection, and good governance. Using original data on a wide variety of restrictions on CSOs for a global sample of countries in the 1994-2016 period, we test the implications of this argument, honing in on governance related to anti-corruption efforts, the environment, and respect for labor rights and human rights. Our analyses provide evidence for restrictions as a red flag for public goods provision in each of these governance areas. Restrictions significantly and negatively correlate with public goods failures within and across countries and with environmental governance outcomes across countries.

2020. Civil Society Under Attack: A Warning Sign of Democratic Decline

Abstract: Do government-imposed restrictions on civil society organizations (CSOs) predict the weakening and erosion of democratic institutions? We argue that restrictions on CSOs such as funding cuts and smear campaigns are a precursor of democratic decline in formal institutions such as constitutional rights, parliaments and judiciaries. CSOs monitor and mobilize against government violations of democratic norms. Thus, governments have incentives to restrict CSOs before attacking liberal-democratic institutions. By reducing scrutiny and criticism, restrictions on CSOs also facilitate the dismantling of institutional checks on government power. Accounting for unobserved cross-country heterogeneity and reverse causation, our statistical analysis of a global sample of countries in the period 1989–2018 shows that restrictions on CSOs predict democratic decline one to four years in the future. In-depth case studies of three countries in different world regions (Kenya, Turkey and Venezuela) provide evidence of the expected mechanism linking restrictions on civil society to democratic decline.

2020 Introducing the Peacekeeping Mandates (PEMA) Dataset

Abstract: Research on UN peacekeeping operations has explored different sources of heterogeneity between missions, showing how deployment size and personnel composition affect peacekeeping outcomes. So far, however, there is no systematic data allowing scholars to evaluate whether variation in mandated tasks influences peacekeeping effectiveness. Similarly, we know very little about the political negotiation process behind the different configurations of missions’ mandates. This article presents an original dataset of peacekeeping mandates that will allow researchers to explore novel avenues of research about peacekeeping as (i) a conflict resolution tool and (ii) an international institution. Instead of relying on the binary distinction between traditional and multidimensional missions, the PEMA Dataset identifies 39 distinct tasks and three modalities of engagement at two different strengths, coding initial mandates as well as extensions and revisions. The data shows that recent peacekeeping missions are more complex than before and experience considerable changes over their lifecycle. To illustrate the usefulness of our data, we re-examine Hultman et al.’s (2013) analysis of missions’ ability to protect civilians and show how host government and rebel groups respond differently to the content of mandates and the number of armed peacekeepers.

2020 Keeping electoral peace? Activities of United Nations peacekeeping operations and their effects on election-related violence

Abstract: In war-torn countries, elections are held to support peacebuilding, but they sometimes trigger new violence. While PKOs regularly accompany electoral periods, we lack systematic knowledge on how they influence election-related violence. I argue that variation in peacekeepers’ activities is fundamentally important: Only if PKOs assist with securing and organizing elections, can they reduce election-related violence. Using novel data on PKOs’ election-related activities and accounting for endogeneity in both peacekeeping deployment and activities, the analyses of all 630 elections in conflict-affected countries support this expectation. The result implies that the design of PKOs is crucial for effectively managing post-war political transitions.

2020 UN Peacekeeping Operations: From Mandate to Practice (with Robert Blair, Brown University, and Jessica Di Salvatore, Warwick University).

Abstract: Under what conditions do UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) carry out the tasks written into their mandates? Faithful mandate implementation is the backbone of peacekeeping legitimacy among its various stakeholders, including UN Security Council members, troop-contributing countries, host governments and citizens in conflict-torn countries. Yet, PKOs are increasingly tasked with implementing complex mandates. At the same time, PKOs are increasingly deployed to active conflict zones, as in Mali or South Sudan. We argue that as conflict dynamics shift quickly and unpredictably and complex mandates strain resources and invite coordination problems among specialized UN agencies, these two trends—increasingly complex mandates, increasingly implemented in active conflict zones—hinder the implementation of mandated peacebuilding and security tasks. We test this argument using new data on both peacekeeping activities on the ground and UN Security Council mandates in Africa from 1995 to 2016. Using different instrumental variable approaches and fixed effects models, we find that mandate complexity and government violence indeed reduce PKOs’ “process performance” in peacebuilding tasks. Our findings imply that the trend towards increasingly complex operations in ongoing conflict likely results in a mismatch between what PKOs are mandated to do and what they actually do on the ground.

2019. Local peacebuilding in the Central African Republic: What, when, where and with whom? (with Allard Duursma)

Abstract: What, when, where and with whom do United Nations (UN) civilian peacekeepers engage in local peacebuilding activities in conflict-torn environments? Scholars have argued that UN-sponsored peacebuilding is a top-down process targeting elites at the national level. From this perspective, peacebuilding is rarely successful in creating sustainable peace at the local level. However, we lack systematic evidence to empirically evaluate these claims. Most research on UN’s local-level engagement has so far focused on military deployment. In this paper, we use fine-grained, geo-referenced information on various peacebuilding activities from UN Civil Affairs in the Central African Republic to systematically test to what extend UN civilian peacekeepers engage in local-level peacebuilding. We argue that the work of UN civilian peacekeepers is driven by both pragmatic motives and their mandate. On the one hand, civilian peacekeepers generally organize local activities in response to local conflict conditions on the ground. On the other hand, these activities may be concentrated in easily accessible areas and urban centers, and when the UN has sufficient personnel capacity. Our analyses with novel spatially and temporally disaggregated data from UN Civil Affairs in the Central African Republic provide a more nuanced picture of local UN engagement, partly contradicting the presumable failures in bottom-up peacebuilding. What civilian peacekeepers do matches their organizational mission, but unevenly so across the mission area.

[1] Equal authorship is implied.

2016 From a Perpetrator’s Perspective: International election observers and post-electoral violence, Journal of Peace Research 53(2): 226-241.

Abstract: Do international election observers deter or spur violence after election day? This article argues that only when conceptually and empirically distinguishing between violence by governments and opposition groups, can we assess the impact of international election observation. Disaggregating post-electoral violence uncovers that observers can deter governments from using force, but they have the opposite effect on opposition groups. When expecting criticism from observers, opposition leaders can easily deny their responsibility for violence by individual party militants, while weaponry and official insignia betray police and military involvement in violence and force the government to bear command responsibility. Governments also anticipate higher international costs for engaging in post-electoral violence than opposition groups, which are not usually targets of international punishment. On the other hand, international election observers unintentionally incite opposition groups to organize violence, as oppo- sition groups seek to benefit from international attention and support that come with the presence of observers. Observers’ exposure of fraud reverses this differential effect: because governments expect international costs for election rigging anyway, observers cannot deter repression after highly fraudulent elections. But their alertness to electoral malpractice alleviates opposition groups’ incentives for post-electoral violence. Using data on 230 state-wide elections in Africa from 1990 to 2009, the analysis supports the observable implications of this argument. The findings of this article imply that international election observation missions make the post-electoral environment more peaceful when it comes to government repression after non-fraudulent elections. But observers ought to develop greater local expertise to identify opposition grievances before these groups resort to violence and be attentive to the possibility of increased repression after exposing cheating.

2019 United Nations peacekeeping locally: Enabling conflict resolution, reducing communal violence. Journal of Conflict Resolution Online First

Abstract: United Nations peacekeeping operations (UN PKOs) increasingly engage with local communities to support peace processes in war-torn countries. Yet, while existing research tends to focus on the coercive and state-building functions of UN PKOs, their concrete local activities with community leaders and populations remain, empirically and theoretically, understudied. Thus, this study investigates how peacekeepers’ community-based intergroup dialogue activities influence communal violence. It argues that facilitating dialogue between different communal identity-based groups locally can revive intergroup coordination and diminish negative biases against other groups, thereby reducing the risk of communal conflict escalation. This argument is tested using a novel data set of intergroup dialogue activities organized by the UN PKO in Côte d’Ivoire across 107 departments from October 2011 to May 2016. Bivariate probit and matching address the nonrandom assignment of these interventions. The analyses provide robust evidence that the UN PKO mitigated communal violence by organizing intergroup dialogues.

2019 Silencing Their Critics: How Effective Are Governments in Restricting Civil Society? (with Kristin M. Bakke, Neil Mitchell and Dominic Perera).

Abstract: International ‘naming and shaming’ campaigns rely on domestic civil society organizations for information on local human rights conditions. To stop this flow of information, some governments restrict civil society organizations, for example by limiting their access to funding. Do restrictions reduce international ‘naming and shaming’ campaigns that rely on information by domestic civil society organizations? We argue that on the one hand, restrictions may reduce civil society organizations’ ability and motives to monitor local abuses. On the other hand, these organizations may mobilize against restrictions and find new ways of delivering information on human rights violations to international publics. Using a cross-national dataset and in-depth evidence from Egypt, we find that low numbers of restrictions trigger shaming by international non-governmental organizations. Yet, once governments impose multiple types of restrictions, it becomes harder for civil society organizations to adapt, resulting in fewer international shaming campaigns.

2019 When States Crack Down on Human Rights Defenders (with Kristin M. Bakke and Neil Mitchell)

Abstract: Research suggests that civil society mobilization together with the ratification of human rights treaties put pressure on governments to improve their human rights practices. An unexplored theoretical implication is that pressure provokes counter-pressure. Instead of improving treaty compliance, some governments will have an interest in de-mobilizing civil society to silence their critics. Yet we do not know how and to what extent this incentive shapes governments’ policies and practices regarding civil society organizations. We argue and show—using a new global database of government-sponsored restrictions on civil society organizations—that when governments have committed to human rights treaties and, at the same time, continue to commit severe human rights abuses, they impose restrictions on civil society groups to avoid monitoring and mitigate the international costs of abuses.