Civil Societies, Uncivil States: State Repression of NGOs. Forthcoming with Cornell University Press.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

"The Assault on Civil Society: Explaining State Repression of NGOs." International Organization. 76.3 (2022): 549-590. DOI: PDF Link.

Nongovernmental organizations are central to contemporary global governance, and their numbers and influence have grown dramatically since the middle of the twentieth century. However, in the last three decades more than 130 states have repressed these groups, suggesting that a broad range of states perceive them as costly. When they choose to repress NGOs, under what conditions do states use violent strategies versus administrative means? The choice depends on two main factors: the nature of the threat posed by these groups, and the consequences of cracking down on them. Violent crackdown is useful in the face of immediate domestic threats, such as protests. However, violence may increase the state's criminal liability, reduce its legitimacy, violate human rights treaties, and further intensify mobilization against the regime. Therefore, states are more likely to use administrative crackdown, especially in dealing with long-term threats, such as when NGOs influence electoral politics. I test this theory using an original data set of administrative crackdowns on NGOs, as well as violent crackdown on NGO activists, across all countries from 1990 to 2013. To shed light on the strategic decision between violent or administrative crackdown, and how states may perceive threats from domestic and international NGOs differently, I provide a case study from India. I conclude by discussing the implications of this crackdown for the use of civil society actors by the international community, as well as donors and citizens in the global South.

"NGO Repression as a Predictor of Worsening Human Rights Abuses" with Andrew Heiss,  Journal of Human Rights, 21, no. 2 (2022): 123–140, doi: 10.1080/14754835.2022.2030205. PDF Link. Replication data available here.

An increasing number of countries have recently cracked down on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Much of this crackdown is sanctioned by law and represents a bureaucratic form of repression that could indicate more severe human rights abuses in the future. This is especially the case for democracies, which unlike autocracies, may not aggressively attack civic space. We explore if crackdowns on NGOs predict broader human rights repression. Anti-NGO laws are among the most subtle means of repression and attract lesser domestic and international condemnation compared to the use of violence. Using original data on NGO repression, we test whether NGO crackdown is a predictor of political terror, and violations of physical integrity rights and civil liberties. We find that while de jure anti-NGO laws provide little information in predicting future repression, their patterns of implementation—or de facto civil society repression—predicts worsening respect for physical integrity rights and civil liberties.

"Dynamics of International Giving: How Heuristics Shape Individual Donor Preferences" with Andrew Heiss (2021). Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 50:3, 481-505. DOI: PDF Link.

State restrictions on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly pervasive across the globe. While this crackdown has been shown to have a negative impact on public funding flows, we know little about how it impacts private philanthropy. How does information about crackdown abroad, as well as organizational attributes of nonprofits affect individual donors’ willingness to donate internationally? Using a survey experiment, we find that learning about repressive NGO environments increases generosity in that already-likely donors are willing to donate substantially more to legally besieged nonprofits. This generosity persists when mediated by two organizational-level heuristics: NGO issue areas and main funding sources. We discuss the implications of our results on how nonprofits can use different framing appeals to increase fundraising at a time when traditional public donor funding to such organizations is decreasing.

"Who Cares About Crackdowns? Exploring the Role of Trust in Individual Philanthropy," with Marc Dotson and Andrew Heiss (2021). Global Policy 12, 45-58. PDF.

The phenomenon of closing civic space has adversely impacted INGO funding. We argue that individual private donors can be important in sustaining the operations of INGOs working in repressive contexts. Individual donors do not use the same performance-based metrics as official aid donors. Rather, trust can be an important component of individual donor support for nonprofits working towards difficult goals. How does trust in charitable organizations influence individuals' preferences to donate, especially when these groups face crackdown? Using a simulated market for philanthropic donations based on data from a nationally representative sample of individuals in the United States who regularly donate to charity, we find that trust in INGOs matters substantially in shaping donor preferences. Donor profiles with high levels of social trust are likely to donate to INGOs with friendly relationships with host governments. This support holds steady if INGOs face criticism or crackdown. In contrast, donor profiles with lower levels of social trust prefer to donate to organizations that do not face criticism or crackdown abroad. The global crackdown on NGOs may thus possibly sour NGOs' least trusting individual donors. Our findings have practical implications for INGOs raising funds from individuals amid closing civic space.

"How Rebellion Shapes Military Recruitment During Civil War," with Sabrina Karim and Matt Scroggs (2021).  Journal of Peace Research 58:5, 915-929. DOI: . PDF 

What factors affect leaders' recruitment decisions during civil wars? While existing research emphasizes structural factors, we posit that both leaders' disposition and conflict dynamics influence recruitment decisions. We argue that leaders with prior experience in either the security sector or with combat are more risk-averse and consequently less likely to make changes to recruitment, while leaders who briefly served in the military are more risk-acceptant, and thus more likely to make changes to recruitment. At the same time, rebel recruitment strategy also matters, as state leaders take cues from rebels in violating human rights. Using the LEAD Dataset and data on recruitment from 1980-2009, we find that when leaders were previously career officers in the police or the military, they are less likely to make changes to recruitment strategies. We also find that rebels’ use of forced recruitment in ongoing civil wars makes leaders less likely to use voluntary recruitment.

Suparna Chaudhry. (2019). Bridging the Gap: The Relationship between INGO Activism and Human Rights Indicators. Journal of  Human  Rights, 18:1, 111-133. DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2019.1579638. PDF Link. 

This article explores the tension between the production of ‘naming and shaming’ reports as tools of activism by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and the usage of these reports as cross-national indicators of human rights violations. Since INGOs are strategic actors, their reports are not a reflection of the “true” levels of abuse. While existing scholarship has raised this issue in relation to bias in cross-national indicators, it has yet to explain the process by which NGO produce reports. This article exploits subnational variation across domestic and international NGOs within India, showing how the divergence in their reports can be explained by these groups’ organizational structure, probability of success in their chosen issue areas, and their target audience. By explaining how human rights NGOs produce reports, this article concludes with suggestions to ensure that the biases prevalent in a single source of data do not drive the results of future scholarship. 

“Closing Space and the Restructuring of Global Activism: Causes and Consequences of the Global Crackdown on NGOs," with Andrew Heiss in Beyond the Boomerang: New Patterns in Transcalar Advocacy, edited by Elizabeth Bloodgood and Christopher Pallas. (2022). Alabama University Press. 

   Works in-progress

"Violence and Punishment: Framing Public Attitudes in Death Penalty Democracies" with Kelebogile Zvobgo. Link to working paper.

What do people think is the proper punishment for heinous crimes, including rape? Prior scholarship has examined government policy but largely neglected public opinion. In particular, previous research has not evaluated the public's sensitivity to effectiveness and human rights arguments made by human rights non-governmental organizations (HROs). To answer this question, we leverage a survey experiment on capital punishment for the crime of rape in India, Botswana, and United States. While the death penalty is conventionally regarded as an ineffective deterrent and inconsistent with international human rights standards, it is used in many countries around the world, including what we term ``death penalty democracies,'' to punish serious offenses like rape. We expect that individuals who are exposed to effectiveness and human rights arguments will be less likely to support the death penalty as a punishment for rape and more likely to support alternatives like imprisonment and complementary remedies like victim compensation. Our results are important because they indicate the extent to which HROs can sway democratic publics toward effective, human rights-compatible policies.

“Pandemic Pass: Treaty Derogations and Human Rights Practices during Covid-19" with Audrey Comstock and Andrew Heiss (revise & resubmit at International Interactions). Link to paper.

In an effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries declared states of emergency and derogated (temporarily suspended) from their international law obligations. However, the abuse of emergency derogations by many governments raises concerns about the long-lasting impact of these sweeping measures on human rights. Did states misuse international emergency provisions during the COVID-19 crisis to justify human rights abuse or did they follow international law? Using data from the Varieties of Democracy PanDem dataset and the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, we find that states that derogated from their international human rights obligations imposed emergency measures that were temporary and did not violate non-derogable rights. On the other hand, states that did not derogate were more likely impose discriminatory measures, enact emergency measures without time limits and violate non-derogable rights. Our results support the role that flexibility mechanisms such as derogations play in international law and show that states are being sincere about their intentions and not, generally, using these mechanisms to cover abusive behavior.

"Are Donors Really Responding? Analyzing the Impact of Global Restrictions on NGOs" with Andrew Heiss. PDF. 

Foreign donors—both state and private—routinely use nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver foreign aid. However, states are increasingly relying on repressive legislation to repress NGOs within their borders. How have foreign aid donors responded to this legal crackdown on NGOs? Using original data from all countries that received aid from 1981–2012, we assess the impact of anti-NGO laws on total flows of official foreign aid, the nature of projects funded by this aid, and the channels used for distributing this aid. Overall, we find that donors scale back their operations in repressive countries. However, rather than completely withdraw, we also find that donors redirect funds within restrictive countries by decreasing funds for politically sensitive issues in favor of regime-compatible causes. Donors also channel more aid through domestic rather than foreign NGOs; however, this change is by no means a perfect substitute. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for official aid donors, INGOs, and local groups working on contentious causes such as elections, human rights, media, corruption, and advocacy.

"Why Donors Donate: Disentangling Organizational and Structural Heuristics for International Philanthropy" with Marc Dotson and Andrew Heiss (Under Review). Link to Paper.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are a core component of global governance. Over the last two decades, however, many host governments have cracked down on NGOs using a series of laws that adversely affect the availability and use of traditional NGO funding. In response to this dramatic shift in the funding landscape, international NGOs have increasingly turned to individual donors to offset the loss funding. Prior research on NGO fundraising has examined how financial transparency and organizational accountability influence individual donor behavior. How do these elements of private donor decision-making interact with structural-level factors such as worsening host country civic environments when deciding to donate? Using a conjoint experiment with likely donors in the US, we fnd that transparency and accountability can protect against the dampening efect of host government crackdown and criticism of NGOs. Our results have important implications for how NGOs can adapt to worsening civic environments.