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Uncomfortably Numb: The Disconnect between Individual Human Rights Perceptions and State Human Rights Practices


In this article I argue the average person does not have an accurate perception of their government’s human rights practices. Individuals are unable to accurately gauge their government’s human rights behaviours due to a conflation of indifference, personal biases, and focused reframing efforts by the government and other interested parties. This disconnect between state practice and individual perception creates an informational barrier for human rights activists and non-governmental organizations that threatens both their public support and their ability to meet objectives. I offer analysis of the above arguments by examining a survey question from the World Values Study that asks participants to rank their state’s human rights behaviour. I find that there is no direct correlation between these perceived rankings and the state's actual human rights practices. Further, I find that individuals living in states with higher existing levels of personal human rights are more likely to have a negative view of their state’s human rights performance. Finally, I find that individuals from states with a history of past political violence are more likely to demonstrate inflated perceptions of their state’s human rights practices. These findings elucidate the necessity for human rights organizations to take account of, and potentially combat, the disconnect between individuals’ human rights perceptions and states’ action when engaging in activism.

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Full Citation:

Yates, Tyler P. 2021. "Uncomfortably Numb: The Disconnect between Individual Human Rights Perceptions and State Human Rights Practices." Journal of Human Rights 13 (May): 86-104. https://academic.oup.com/jhrp/article-abstract/13/1/86/6262061?redirectedFrom=fulltext

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