Epicenter: November 2013

Cohen, Dara Kay, and Amelia Hoover Green. 2012. “Dueling Incentives: Sexual Violence in Liberia and the Politics of Human Rights Advocacy.” Journal of Peace Research 49 (3): 445-458. Journal of Peace Research Website Abstract
Transnational advocacy organizations are influential actors in the international politics of human rights. While political scientists have described several methods these groups use—particularly a set of strategies termed ‘information politics’—scholars have yet to consider the effects of these tactics beyond their immediate impact on public awareness, policy agendas or the behavior of state actors. This article investigates the information politics surrounding sexual violence during Liberia’s civil war. We show that two frequently-cited ‘facts’ about rape in Liberia are inaccurate, and consider how this conventional wisdom gained acceptance. Drawing on the Liberian case and findings from sociology and economics, we develop a theoretical framework that treats inaccurate claims as an effect of ‘dueling incentives’—the conflict between advocacy organizations’ needs for short-term drama and long-term credibility. From this theoretical framework, we generate hypotheses regarding the effects of information politics on (1) short-term changes in funding for human rights advocacy organizations, (2) short-term changes in human rights outcomes, (3) the institutional health of humanitarian and human rights organizations, and (4) long-run outcomes for the ostensible beneficiaries of such organizations. We conclude by outlining a research agenda in this area, emphasizing the importance of empirical research on information politics in the human rights realm, and particularly its effects on the lives of aid recipients. DOI: 10.1177/0022343312436769
Cohen, Dara Kay, Amelia Hoover Green, and Elisabeth Jean Wood. 2013. Wartime Sexual Violence: Misconceptions, Implications, and Ways Forward. United States Institute of Peace. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace. United States Institute of Peace Website Abstract
  • Wartime rape is neither ubiquitous nor inevitable. The level of sexual violence differs significantly across countries, conflicts, and particularly armed groups. Some armed groups can and do prohibit sexual violence. Such variation suggests that policy interventions should also be focused on armed groups, and that commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for patterns of sexual violence they fail or refuse to prevent.
  • Wartime rape is also not specific to certain types of conflicts or to geographic regions. It occurs in ethnic and non-ethnic wars, in Africa and elsewhere.
  • State forces are more likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual violence than rebels. States may also be more susceptible than rebels to naming and shaming campaigns around sexual violence.
  • Perpetrators and victims may not be who we expect them to be. During many conflicts, those who perpetrate sexual violence are often not armed actors but civilians. Perpetrators also are not exclusively male, nor are victims exclusively female. Policymakers should not neglect nonstereotypical perpetrators and victims.
  • Wartime rape need not be ordered to occur on a massive scale. Wartime rape is often not an intentional strategy of war: it is more frequently tolerated than ordered. Nonetheless, as noted, commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for sexual violence perpetrated by those troops.
  • Much remains unknown about the patterns and causes of wartime sexual violence. In particular, existing data cannot determine conclusively whether wartime sexual violence on a global level is increasing, decreasing, or holding steady. Policymakers should instead focus on variation at lower levels of aggregation, and especially across armed groups.
Much of the current scholarship on wartime violence, including studies of the combatants themselves, assumes that women are victims and men are perpetrators. However, there is an increasing awareness that women in armed groups may be active fighters who function as more than just cooks, cleaners, and sexual slaves. In this article, the author focuses on the involvement of female fighters in a form of violence that is commonly thought to be perpetrated only by men: the wartime rape of noncombatants. Using original interviews with ex-combatants and newly available survey data, she finds that in the Sierra Leone civil war, female combatants were participants in the widespread conflict-related violence, including gang rape. A growing body of evidence from other conflicts suggests that Sierra Leone is not an anomaly and that women likely engage in conflict-related violence, including sexual violence, more often than is currently believed. Many standard interpretations of wartime rape are undermined by the participation of female perpetrators. To explain the involvement of women in wartime rape, the author argues that women in armed group units face similar pressure to that faced by their male counterparts to participate in gang rape. The study has broad implications for future avenues of research on wartime violence, as well as for policy.
Cohen, Dara Kay. 2013. “Explaining Rape during Civil War: Cross-National Evidence (1980–2009).” American Political Science Review 107 (3): 461–477. American Political Science Review (DOI) Abstract
Why do some armed groups commit massive wartime rape, whereas others never do? Using an original dataset, I describe the substantial variation in rape by armed actors during recent civil wars and test a series of competing causal explanations. I find evidence that the recruitment mechanism is associated with the occurrence of wartime rape. Specifically, the findings support an argument about wartime rape as a method of socialization, in which armed groups that recruit by force—through abduction or pressganging—use rape to create unit cohesion. State weakness and insurgent contraband funding are also associated with increased wartime rape by rebel groups. I examine observable implications of the argument in a brief case study of the Sierra Leone civil war. The results challenge common explanations for wartime rape, with important implications for scholars and policy makers.
Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru
Theidon, Kimberly S. 2012. Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru. University of Pennsylvania Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

In the aftermath of a civil war, former enemies are left living side by side—and often the enemy is a son-in-law, a godfather, an old schoolmate, or the community that lies just across the valley. Though the internal conflict in Peru at the end of the twentieth century was incited and organized by insurgent Senderistas, the violence and destruction were carried out not only by Peruvian armed forces but also by civilians. In the wake of war, any given Peruvian community may consist of ex-Senderistas, current sympathizers, widows, orphans, army veterans—a volatile social landscape. These survivors, though fully aware of the potential danger posed by their neighbors, must nonetheless endeavor to live and labor alongside their intimate enemies.

Drawing on years of research with communities in the highlands of Ayacucho, Kimberly Theidon explores how Peruvians are rebuilding both individual lives and collective existence following twenty years of armed conflict. Intimate Enemies recounts the stories and dialogues of Peruvian peasants and Theidon's own experiences to encompass the broad and varied range of conciliatory practices: customary law before and after the war, the practice of arrepentimiento (publicly confessing one's actions and requesting pardon from one's peers), a differentiation between forgiveness and reconciliation, and the importance of storytelling to make sense of the past and re-create moral order. The micropolitics of reconciliation in these communities present an example of postwar coexistence that deeply complicates the way we understand transitional justice, moral sensibilities, and social life in the aftermath of war. Any effort to understand post-conflict reconstruction must be attuned both to devastation as well as to human tenacity for life.

Theidon, Kimberly S. 2007. “Gender in Transition: Common Sense, Women, and War.” Journal of Human Rights. Journal of Human Rights. Publisher's Version Abstract
On August 28, 2003, the Commissioners of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC) submitted their Final Report to President Alejandro Toledo and the nation, thus joining the growing list of countries that have implemented truth commissions as a means of transitioning from a period of armed conflict and authoritarian rule towards the founding of a procedural democracy. The PTRC shared several features with the Guatemalan and South African commissions that preceded it. All three commissions were considered "gender sensitive" because they actively sought out women’s experiences of violence. This focus reflected the desire to write more "inclusive truths," as well as changes in international jurisprudence. In this paper, the author draws upon research she has conducted since 1995 in Peru to explore the commissioning of truth and some implications in terms of women and war. She examines what constitutes "gender sensitive" research strategies, as well as the ways in which truth commissions have incorporated these strategies into their work. Truth and memory are indeed gendered, but not in any common-sensical way. Thus the author hopes to offer a more nuanced understanding of the gendered dimensions of war.
Theidon, Kimberly S. 2010. “Histories of Innocence: Post-War Stories in Peru.” Beyond the Toolkit: Rethinking the Paradigm of Transitional Justice, edited by Rosalind Shaw, Lars Waldorf, and Pierre Hazan. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

On November 1, 2006, Peruvian president Alan García announced he would be proposing a new law that would include the death penalty as one sanction for terrorism in the Penal Code. As he argued, “We are not going to allow Shining Path to return and paint their slogans on the walls of our universities. Once this law is approved, anyone who commits the serious crime of terrorism will find themselves facing a firing squad. A war forewarned does not kill people.”

Jocelyn Viterna

Jocelyn Viterna

Faculty Associate; Harvard Academy Senior Scholar (on leave 2020-2021). Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Harvard University.
Research interests: Social movements; civil society; development; democratization; transnationalism; gender; sexuality; and political violence.
33 Kirkland Street
William James Hall 480
Cambridge, MA 02138
f: (617) 496-5794
p: (617) 495-7569
Jennifer Leaning

Jennifer Leaning

Faculty Associate. Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Research interests: Medical human rights and international humanitarian law; humanitarian crises and public health practice; civilian protection and human security in conflict settings; and environmental effects of war.

651 Huntington Avenue
7th floor
Boston, MA 02115
p: (617) 432-0656
Caroline Elkins

Caroline Elkins

Executive Committee; Faculty Associate. Professor of History, Department of History; Professor of African and African American Studies,
Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

Research interests: Late colonial Kenya and the Mau Mau emergency; postconflict resolution; violence and memory; Christianity; and empire.

1730 Cambridge Street
Room 432
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 495-2568
Dara Kay Cohen

Dara Kay Cohen

Faculty Associate. Ford Foundation Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.

Research interests: International relations; international security; civil war; political violence; violence during conflict; wartime sexual violence; gender and conflict; West Africa; Timor-Leste; El Salvador; and Haiti.

124 Mount Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 495-7838
Robert H. Bates

Robert H. Bates

Faculty Associate (emeritus). Eaton Research Professor of the Science of Government, Emeritus, Department of Government; Professor of African and African American Studies, Emeritus, Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

Research interests: Political economy of development, particularly in Africa; and violence and state failure.

1737 Cambridge Street,
Cambridge, MA 02138
f: (617) 495-8292
p: (617) 496-0919
Diane E. Davis

Diane E. Davis

Executive Committee; Faculty Associate. Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism, Department of Urban Planning and Design, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.

Research interests: Conflict cities; the politics of insecurity; Latin America; cities of the Global South; and relationships between urban violence, informality, policing, and the rule of law.

48 Quincy Street
Gund Hall #319
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 495-0728