Human Rights Violations and Post-election Protest

AuthorSvitlana Chernykh,Sam R. Bell
Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 460 –472
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918793153
On November 4, 2012, hundreds of people filled the
streets of Kyiv, Ukraine to protest over “stolen” elec-
tions. The opposition argued that the party of the presi-
dent, Viktor Yanukovych, rigged the vote of the
parliamentary election that took place on October 28.1
However, the president and his allies were known for
more than just rigging the ballot boxes. At the time of the
election, the leading figure of the Ukrainian opposition
and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was
imprisoned on charges that, many argued, were politi-
cally motivated. Furthermore, a year before the election,
Amnesty International issued a report noting a signifi-
cant deterioration of human rights in the country since
Yanukovych took office in 2010. Among other viola-
tions, the organization pointed to an increase in the num-
ber of allegations of torture and other ill treatment as
well as restrictions on the freedom of speech and assem-
bly (Amnesty International 2011).
Ukraine is not alone. In the last three decades, more
than 15 percent of all elections worldwide were fol-
lowed by riots and post-election protests (Hyde and
Marinov 2012, 2014). In many instances, opposition
claimed fraud, but at the same time, the societies were
struggling with more than just dirty elections. Are post-
election protests driven solely by the reaction of the
population to election fraud? Or do general government
actions toward the population also have an impact on
whether individuals are willing to collectively mobilize
in response to election outcomes? In this manuscript, we
examine whether violations of human rights have an
impact on whether protests and riots occur in response
to election results.
Given existing research on human rights, repression,
and causes of post-election protest, there are two possible
effects that human rights abuses can have. First, it is pos-
sible that repression serves as a deterrent to mass mobili-
zation against election outcomes due to the potential
physical costs to the population. Second, it is possible
that human rights violations serve to “micro-mobilize”
the population, thus making it easier to collectively orga-
nize in response to an election outcome, as a result
increasing the probability of protest occurring.
We refine those existing claims and theorize that gov-
ernments have a menu of repression tactics at their dis-
posal and that some human rights violations are more
likely to increase post-election protests than others. We
identify three dimensions that explain this variation: con-
nection to election outcome, connection to incumbent
793153PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918793153Political Research QuarterlyBell and Chernykh
1Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA
2The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital
Territory, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Sam R. Bell, Department of Political Science, Kansas State University,
101C Calvin Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.
Human Rights Violations and
Post-election Protest
Sam R. Bell1 and Svitlana Chernykh2
How do human rights violations affect post-election protest? Until recently, post-election protests have been explained
primarily by election-related factors such as the level of manipulation and the quality of electoral institutions. We argue
that there are three dimensions along which human rights violations influence post-election protest: (1) the physical
cost to protesters, (2) the ability to connect the violation to an election outcome, and (3) the ability to connect the
repressive action to the government. Using this framework, we identify political imprisonment as the physical integrity
right violation most likely to increase the probability of post-election protest. We test our hypotheses empirically
with data on all national-level elections in the world between 1982 and 2012. We find that political imprisonment, a
violation easily connected to government action and election outcomes, and less costly physically than other physical
integrity rights violations, increases the probability of post-election protest.
post-election protest, human rights, political imprisonment, election fraud

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