Book Project: Strong NGOs and Weak States: The Pursuit of Gender Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa (Cambridge University Press)
My forthcoming book, Strong NGOs and Weak States, examines responses to gender-based crimes by domestic courts in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). I argue that state fragility has created opportunity structures in DR Congo for non-state actors to exert considerable influence over legal processes in ways that have not been possible in South Africa. In DR Congo, interventions by NGOs and other non-state actors have led to a number of striking developments in the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence. However, while external interventions in DR Congo have provided a number of important opportunities for victims of gendered crimes to seek remedy, redress and recognition through the legal system, targeted attention to gender violence by the legal system has led to a number of unintended consequences.
Related projects examine the manipulation of internationally supported human rights prosecutions in eastern DR Congo by elites and armed actors involved in the conflict; the repercussions of gender violence prosecutions for victims of violent crime; the impacts of criminal prosecutions and gender outreach in changing local behavior and attitudes vis-à-vis gender issues and attitudes towards state and customary institutions for dispute resolution; and research ethics in fieldwork in fragile or post-conflict states. Works in progress include a project on men and masculinity in eastern DR Congo; and a project on policing and local dispute resolution cross sub-Saharan Africa.
"Building the Rule of War: Postconflict Institutions and the Micro-Dynamics of Conflict in Eastern DR Congo"
2017. International Organization (17: 2)
Why have peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts so frequently failed to create durable institutions that can deter or withstand resurgent violence in volatile sites of cyclical conflict? Extant theory predicts that new institutions can help overcome violence and mitigate commitment problems in post-conflict contexts by reducing uncertainty in inherently uncertain environments. On the contrary, this article argues that post-conflict institutions often prove limited in their abilities to contribute to durable peace because they offer wartime elites new venues in which to pursue conflict-era agendas. Through a micro-analysis of efforts to build the rule of law in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the article demonstrates that wartime elites capture and instrumentalize new legal institutions in order to maximize their intra- and interorganizational survival, pursue economic, military and political agendas behind the scenes and, in some cases, to prepare for an imminent return to war.
"Ethics Abroad: Research and Field Methods in Areas of Limited Statehood"
Accepted for publication at Political Science and Politics
With Kate Cronin-Furman
The diversity of political spaces, availability of cheap labor for research assistance, ease of access to powerful figures, and the safety net of a foreign passport attract researchers to the developing world. However, environments of extreme state weakness and/or ongoing conflict permit research practices that would not be acceptable back home. This piece explores and critically assesses approaches adopted by foreign academics in carrying out research in environments of weak regulatory authority, suggesting that such contexts provide unique opportunities to researchers that would not be available in states with greater reach or capacity. For example, qualitative researchers may find that no one objects to their request to interview vulnerable child victims of sexual assault. Experimenters may be able to coerce poorly-funded local NGOs to pursue interventions at odds with their organizational mandates. We argue that, while studying politics in such settings reveals core aspects of political life not easily observed elsewhere, environments of state fragility and weakness frequently constitute permissive environments where researchers can engage in conduct that would be considered deeply problematic at home. The article highlights some of the common challenges and dilemmas faced by academic researchers in the field, and identifies a number of questions that researchers, readers, reviewers, and editors should ask themselves when faced with evaluating such work.
See also: "The Ethics of Fieldwork Preparedness" With Sarah Parkinson (2017; Political Violence at a Glance)
"Gender Politics After War: Mobilizing Opportunity in Post-Conflict Africa"
2017. Politics & Gender. Volume 13. Issue 2.
With Marie Berry
See also: "Women and Power After War" @ Political Violence at a Glance
In recent decades, the devastating and disproportionate toll that armed conflict wreaks on the lives of women has garnered considerable and much-needed attention. Less studied, however, are the openings and opportunities brought about through war, which have the potential to disrupt and fundamentally reorder gender relations in the aftermath of conflict. These processes, neglected until recently in scholarship on post-conflict transition, can – and have – resulted in surprisingly positive outcomes for women’s rights and political representation. While the research of the past two decades has directed necessary attention to the fact that women’s bodies often constitute the battlefields on which wars of national aggression are fought, this earlier literature typically maintained an almost exclusive focus on female harm and victimhood. In doing so, it risked obscuring female agency, disregarding the many and varied roles women have occupied during and after conflict, and overlooking opportunities for empowerment – in addition to marginalization – that can be born out of the devastation of war.
"Rape Trials as a Weapon of War: Gendered Nationalism in Sri Lanka” (Invitation to Revise and Resubmit)
With Meredith Loken and Kate Cronin Furman: Manuscript available on request
The use of rape as a weapon of war was infrequent in Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) famously refrained from sexual violence in combat and, while government soldiers perpetrated acts of rape, these were periodically met with condemnation. Prior work has shown that organizational control within military command structures is crucial in preventing unwanted acts of opportunistic sexual violence. Yet we know little about why elites choose to prohibit sexual violence in their ranks, and why government forces publicly condemned sexual violence when it occurred in Sri Lanka. We argue that the symbolic stance against rape in conflict in Sri Lanka served as a mechanism to garner domestic political legitimacy. Government decision-makers in particular utilized symbolic accountability for high-profile acts of sexual violence to mobilize support for a heavily gendered nationalism at a time when support for the government was waning. Through our analysis of the response to sexual violence within the Sri Lankan army, we call attention to the ways in which wartime sexual violence can be instrumentalized to serve a variety of military ends, demonstrating that women’s bodies can be used as tools of conflict in more ways than one.
The Unshakable State: Personal Trust and Institutional Legitimacy in Sub-Saharan Africa (Under Review)
With Sarah Dreier: Manuscript available on request
How do positive and negative experiences with courts and police across sub-Saharan Africa shape confidence in public institutions? In order to build stable political systems and a robust rule of law, ordinary citizens must espouse faith in the institutions of the state (McClymont and Golub 2000; North 1990; Rothstein and Stolle 2008; Seligson 2002). Yet we know little about what shapes and sustains this confidence and at what point it breaks down. We use Afrobarometer 6 to explore the effects of long delays, unequal treatment, exorbitant fees, and limited access, on public trust in legal institutions across 28 countries. While negative first-hand experiences erode trust in specific institutions, the reported legitimacy of the state typically remains unchanged. Our research thus reveals a crucial distinction between trust and legitimacy, demonstrating that western legal institutions are stable, embedded and ubiquitous in the minds of citizens across Africa.
"Gendering Justice? Opportunity and (dis)Empowerment through Legal Development Aid in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo". 2016. Law & Society Review. Volume 50, Issue 3 (Lead Article)
With Ilot Muthaka (Congo Men's Network) and Gabriella Walker (National Health Service).
Why have women in eastern DR Congo increasingly turned to domestic courts in the aftermath of sexual violence, despite the fact that the state has consistently failed to provide basic goods and services to its citizens? Moreover, how do victims of violence interpret their first encounters with state law in an environment characterized by institutional fragility and humanitarian governance? This article analyzes the experiences and reflections of 50 self-reported victims of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo. We find that human rights NGOs have served as critical mediators in persuading victims of violence to pursue legal remedy for sexual crimes. However, rather than being socialized to prioritize formal accountability mechanisms in precisely the ways that the architects of legal outreach programs intended, we find that victims of violence have turned to the law for a combination of material and ideational factors. Some appear to have internalized emerging norms of punitive criminal justice, while others have adopted the language of law instrumentally, in order to access crucial socio-material benefits. We identify a paradox of opportunity and disempowerment, therefore, that characterizes our interviewees' experiences with the law.
"Organizing Hypocrisy: Providing Legal Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Areas of Limited Statehood". 2014. International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 58, Issue 3, Pages 515–526
In recent years, courts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) have produced some of the most progressive judicial decisions against perpetrators of gender violence of anywhere in the world. Yet, DR Congo is often described as the archetypal collapsed state. This article uses a case study of domestic courts in Eastern DR Congo to analyze how and why complex functions of domestic governance—such as the production of frequent and high-quality judicial decisions by domestic courts—are able to persist, even flourish, in an area where the state is characterized by extreme fragility and weakness. I argue that, rather than a decoupling of law and practice as previous approaches might predict, state fragility in DR Congo has created openings for domestic and transnational actors to exert direct influence over judicial processes at multiple levels of governance. The involvement of external actors in the domestic authority structures of states has resulted in surprisingly progressive human rights outcomes in certain issue areas. However, the article also documents some of the unintended consequences of human rights developments that occur at the very peripheries of broader state-building projects.
"Ending Impunity for Gender-Based Crimes: A Case Study of the International Criminal Court and Complementarity in the Democratic Republic of Congo". 2014. African Conflict and Peace-building Review (Vol 4:1).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 to combat impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern. It seeks to do so in two ways: through a series of high-profile cases in The Hague, intended to deter future war criminals; and through its complementarity mechanism, which equips national legal systems to prosecute ICC crimes domestically. Through a case study of the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this article examines efforts by various stakeholders to realize the legal complementarity principle embedded in the Rome Statute. The article argues that the domestic prosecution of ICC crimes requires developments in four distinct areas: legislative reform, institutional reform, education and training, and the building of public trust and participation. The research also reveals that where developments in these areas have occurred, they have been propelled by a variety of domestic and international stakeholders. However, the ICC itself has failed to contribute significantly to the realization of complementarity that is central to achieving its mandate.
Labor rights and the politics of global supply chains
Another related area of inquiry focuses on the protection and promotion of labor rights. Together with Anne Greenleaf and Margaret Levi, I developed a public archive documenting successful negotiations between global brands and unions representing subcontracted employees subject to labor violations. The Brand Responsibility Project, concerned with issues of corporate social responsibility and the behavior of global brands in the apparel industry, sought to identify the strategies and tactics used to successfully pressure corporations to assume responsibility over labor violations committed against workers in their supply chain. Together with a team of researchers, we have investigated the relationship between state capacity and protections for workers, and the conditions under which governments and corporations actively promote higher labor standards. Read our background report for the 2013 World Development Report here, an examination of the influence of left-leaning political representation on the protection of labor rights here, and our review of scholarly literature on working conditions and rights here.
- African politics
- State building
- Rule of law
- Transitional justice
- Human rights
- Labor rights