State Restrictions of Civil Society

The dataset on “State Restrictions of Civil Society” covers 149 states in the 1994-2016 time period, coded from the section on “Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights” in the annual country reports of the US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  The data was collected by Kristin M. Bakke, Neil J. Mitchell, and Hannah M. Smidt, funded by the British Academy. You can download the dataset and codebook. If you use our data, please have a look at the codebook and cite one of the articles below.

The dataset is at the heart of the analysis in two articles. In our International Studies Quarterly article, “When States Crack Down on Human Rights Defenders” (by Kristin M. Bakke, Neil J. Mitchell, and Hannah M. Smidt), our starting point is the body of work suggesting that civil society mobilization, together with the ratification of human rights treaties, put pressure on governments to improve their human rights practices. An unexplored 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 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 to mitigate the international costs of their abuses.

In an article in the British Journal of Political Science “Silencing their Critics” (by Hannah M. Smidt, Dominic Perera, Neil J. Mitchell, and Kristin M. Bakke), we explore civil society’s ability to resist state restrictions. Research has shown that 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, for example by limiting their access to funding. But do such restrictions reduce international ‘naming and shaming’ campaigns that rely on information by domestic civil society? 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 our 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.