Swords into ploughshares? Why human rights abuses persist after resistance campaigns

Image credit: Francisco Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid


Human rights abuse tends to increase during national crises, such as civil wars and mass nonviolent uprisings. Under what conditions does this abuse abate or persist? I argue that violent challenges provoke much more coercive state responses — exposing more personnel within the security forces to extreme forms of repression and priming them (both leaders and followers) to reproduce these behaviors after the conflict has terminated. This effect is mitigated or avoided when challengers rely on nonviolent tactics instead of violence, leading to less post-conflict abuse. I test this argument with several quantitative methods, which establish a positive association between nonviolent resistance campaigns and subsequent freedom from political killings. Results also suggest that democratization can partially — but not fully — counteract the repressive legacies of violent conflict. By choosing to specialize in nonviolent tactics, therefore, resistance leaders avoid a repression trap that not even democratization can fully disarm.

In Journal of Peace Research
Christopher Wiley Shay, PhD
Christopher Wiley Shay, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

I study resistance movements, their legacies on societies and governments, and how these legacies help or hinder democratization.