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Improving democracy through justice

NSF Award:

AHRC-NSF MOU: The Impact of Transitional Justice on Human Rights and Democracy  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

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Research teams at the University of Minnesota and Oxford University collaborated to create a cross-national database about the mechanisms for transitional justice. They found that holding perpetrators accountable for human rights violations contributes to improvements in democracy and human rights. 

Countries transitioning toward democracy use human rights trials to signal commitment to international legal principles.  Reliance on trials differs across nations in a way not predicted by levels of past abuses. Countries with more prosecutions are less repressive, making it more likely that trials result in convictions. This positive effect does not depend on whether high- or low-level officials face trial. In turn, amnesty laws provide stability during transitions, when nations are vulnerable.

Trials with substantial punishments attach clear costs to committing abuses, which could deter abuses in the future. As nations throughout the world struggle to address human rights abuses, foreign policymakers can benefit from knowing that both trials and amnesty laws contribute to stable transitions and improvements in human rights.

The researchers compiled data on approximately 500 human rights trials and 488 amnesties and then analyzed the data against multiple democracy and human rights indices. This comprehensive study was an attempt to address inconsistencies between previous findings by these two research teams. Further efforts are underway to collect data for an exhaustive list of truth commissions. 


  • accountability improves democracy and human rights
Accountability for human rights violations improves democracy.

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