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IBS Speaker Series: Regina Bateson

April 11 @ 12:00 pm 1:00 pm

Title: Human Rights or Criminals’ Rights? How Crime Undermines Support for Human Rights in Central America

Abstract: Amidst iron-fisted policing, state repression, and political violence, human rights advocacy remains critically important in Central America. Yet human rights are a contested concept in the region. Across multiple years of ethnographic research in Guatemala, we have often heard people dismiss human rights as something that “only protects criminals.”  In this article, we use original surveys and in-depth interviews in Guatemala to explore how high crime rates have contributed to the popular delegitimization of human rights in the region. We find that views on human rights are complex and at times contradictory. Even people who are generally supportive of democracy and the rule of law often also have sharply negative impressions of human rights. Survey experimental evidence suggests that concern about crime is, at least in part, responsible for these views.

Priming respondents to think about crime reduces support for human rights. This link is reiterated in open-ended, qualitative survey responses, where many people say gang members are the primary beneficiaries of human rights work. But what does it mean to say human rights only serve to protect criminals? In-depth interviews suggest that this oft-repeated refrain has three distinct variants. First, some people are fine with the notion that criminals’ rights should be protected, but they are also concerned about victims’ rights. In this line of reasoning, the main critique is the comparative lack of services, recognition, and dignity afforded to victims. A second rationale is procedural: human rights defenders are seen as having more skills and resources than prosecutors or the police, so when they intervene on behalf of detainees, human rights advocates are thought to have an unfair advantage, unjustly tipping the scales toward releasing criminals. Finally, a third rationale rejects the notion that human rights are universal – either because human rights are only for “good people,” because people “give up” their rights when they harm someone else, or because gang members and other criminals are sub-human. We conclude by using these insights to discuss several strategies for increasing support for human rights in the region. 

Bio: Regina Bateson is an assistant professor in the political science department. She studies violence and politics, the rule of law, and problems of democracy. Geographically, she focuses on Latin America (especially Guatemala) and the United States. 

Regina’s work has been published in the American Political Science Review, Perspectives on Politics, The Journal of Politics, the Journal of Peace Research, Comparative Political Studies, and other outlets. Her research has won several awards, including the American Political Science Association’s Heinz Eulau Award and the Gabriel A. Almond Award for the best dissertation in comparative politics. 

Regina earned her BA in history from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in political science from Yale University, with support from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Prior to her academic career, she was a Foreign Service Officer for the US Department of State.

Join in person or via Zoomemail for the password.
*Light lunch served at 11:45, please RSVP.

Program on International Development

IBS 155A

Institute of Behavioral Science 1440 15th Street
Boulder, CO 80302