States in glass houses don’t throw stones

Assistant Professor of International Relations Shubha Kamala Prasad co-authors article about how states with insurgencies vote in the UN Human Rights Council.

Countries around the world have struggled with domestic insurgencies over a long span of time. How do these internal conflicts affect their governments’ behaviour beyond their borders? According to Hertie School Assistant Professor of International Relations Shubha Kamala Prasad and Georgetown University Professor of Indian Politics Irfan Nooruddin, fighting domestic insurgency not only affects countries’ domestic politics, it also changes how they vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR). The authors argue that states that suppress insurgencies using methods that violate their international human rights commitments are hesitant to condemn other countries’ alleged violations. Why? Because they fear seeing their actions at home criticised.

The article, “States living in glasshouses …: Why fighting domestic insurgency changes how countries vote in the UN human rights council”, was published in the journal Conflict Management and Peace Science in September this year.

Domestic insurgency and voting patterns

Prasad and Nooruddin conducted a global statistical analysis of country voting patterns in the UNHCR from 1973 to 2017. Their results show a clear link between domestic insurgency and countries' affirmative votes on targeted resolutions in the UNHCR, which aim to shame specific countries for their human rights abuses in a public forum.

Comparing across all UNHCR member states during the period, the authors found that countries without insurgencies displayed a higher approval rate for resolutions targeting human rights violations (72.29%), whereas those grappling with domestic insurgencies showed a lower approval rate for such resolutions (58.42%).

The authors highlight the voting behaviour of Nigeria and Kenya between 2006 and 2017 in particular. While Nigeria showed an approval rate of 77.2% in insurgency-free years, the figure fell to 61.94% in years marked by insurgency. Kenya's voting behaviour showed similar oscillation: while Kenya displayed an approval rate of 45.83% in non-conflict years, the figure dropped to 36.36% in periods of insurgency.

The role of media freedom in shaping voting behaviour

Media freedom plays a significant role in countries' reluctance to condemn other nations' human rights abuses, say the authors. Civil society organisations and political oppositions rely on media reports to hold the government accountable. The presence of an insurgency, however, undermines the expected commitment to pro-human rights stances associated with media freedom. 

In countries with high media freedom, “investigative journalists expose violations of human rights during counterinsurgency and the press can highlight government hypocrisy when international proclamations and actions are at odds with domestic practice,” note Prasad and Nooruddin. “For this reason, nations with insurgencies and greater media freedom are more hesitant to support resolutions that target individual states for human rights violations. Ultimately these countries’ voting behaviour mirrors that of countries that openly repress the press.”

Read Prasad and Nooruddin’s article in Conflict Management and Peace Science.

See also Prasad's interview in Good Authority, in which she relates her research to India's stance on Israel and Palestine.

The Hertie School is not responsible for any content linked or referred to from these pages. Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.

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