Essays on political violence in autocracies


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The first essay examines the impact of coup-proofing on political violence while a leader is in power and during the leader’s regime transition. To explain this phenomenon, this study focuses on Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule between 1979 and 2003 and including the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion which led to Hussein’s removal from power. The significance of Hussein’s coup-proofing strategies provides a window into the nature of human rights violations through all stages of a rule, invasion, regime transition, and the violence that endures beyond transition. This second essay asks the question of how a state's military institutions can affect whether a regime transition is violent or not. Specifically, it examines the relationship between counterbalancing and violence during regime transition in authoritarian regimes. The main argument is that counterbalancing is more likely to increase violence during regime transition. Further, this relationship differs across autocracies, and military regimes are more likely to experience violent regime transition than their civilian counterparts. I test these hypotheses by using cross sectional and time series data on autocratic regime transition and counterbalancing from 1970 to 2010. The results suggest a curvilinear relationship between counterbalancing and violent regime transition. Further, it appears that counterbalancing in military regimes is more likely to lead to violent regime transition than in other autocratic regimes. This third essay analyzes how U.S. aid affect the human rights abuses. Particularly, it examines the relationship between U.S. aid and substitution effect of rights violation in authoritarian regimes. The main argument is that as a rational actor, the autocratic leader does not want to lose aid, and at the same time cannot completely stop violation of rights because such leaders come into power through force. In such a situation, leader act strategically by substituting the visible rights violation to invisible ones (killings to forced disappearances). However, substitution behavior depends on the strategic nature of relationship between the U.S. and the recipient. If the recipient is strategically unimportant then we expect substitution, otherwise substitution of rights violation may not exist, thus making autocratic regimes to violate all rights irrespective of their type. Further, when donor is under intense pressure from its public or international community to act against the recipient that is strategically important then the donor may choose to punish recipient by cutting economic aid rather than military aid. I test these hypotheses by using cross sectional and time series data on U.S. aid and human rights from 1980 to 2010. The fourth essay examines how regime type (democracy or autocracy) shapes the terrorism effect on human rights violations. Specifically, it studies how democracies are also willing to violate certain types of human rights when threatened by terrorism. I argue that autocracies are often already engaging in human rights violations, thus terrorist attacks have a smaller effect on human rights violations in autocratic states. In contrast, democracies usually have a better record of human rights but terrorist incidents can place democratic regimes in an emergency. Under this setting, democracies will increase human rights violations. I argue that in this setting, democracies will violate physical integrity rights, not empowerment rights. Physical integrity right violations allow governments to repress vulnerable groups while signaling to most citizens that they are not vulnerable to repression. Thus, democracies are able to protect themselves from internal threats while maintaining the support of their selectorate. In this particular situation, the public become tolerant mainly because the government signal its citizens that it is only going after the terrorists not the general citizens. I study the conditioning effect of regime type on the relationship between terrorism and human rights during the period from 1980 to 2010 using data on regime type, terrorism and human rights.



Human rights, Autocracies, Political violence, Repression, Regime type, Human security

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Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Political Science

Major Professor

Carla Martinez Machain