This research addresses four overarching questions of clear importance in world politics today. When state torture occurs, what agency of the government tortures? What is the state response to allegations of torture? Who is tortured? What types of torture are used? The project tackles all four questions, but is focused particularly on the first two. The research seeks to map the impact of political institutions on the practice of torture and especially upon the elimination of torture as a practice. Building such a map requires that the researchers identify the specific government agencies involved and begin to explore the impact of both political institutions and specific policies upon the elimination of torture.

The project uses Amnesty International (AI) reports to collect data on the extent to which the military, police officers, prison officials, and other government agencies ill-treat or torture those in their custody. The project grew out of the investigator?s prior research finding that democracies were more likely than autocratic governments to eliminate the practice of torture only when there were no groups using violence to challenge the government. The study also found that institutional separation of powers made governments less likely to eliminate the practice of torture. Although this work identified important linkages between political institutions and the practice of torture, it was limited due to the crude data available about the extent to which governments fail to meet their obligation not to torture. In the investigator's prior NSF-funded work, more than 20 undergraduates and several graduate students read AI's publications for the years 1995-2005 and coded data on a wide variety of variables about the extent to which governments engaged in torture, investigated allegations of torture, and punished those found guilty of torturing prisoners. The result is a large database about the torture and ill-treatment practices of governments.

This new project converts the raw data as collected into user-friendly data that can be accessed on the Internet. The raw data is being assembled into two formats, one of which is widely used throughout the scholarly literature on conflict, cooperation, and human rights, and the other of which is gaining increasing acceptance as a valuable alternative to the standard bearer. Undergraduate research assistants will be hired to perform the majority of these tasks. Florida State has an undergraduate research program that identifies, recruits, and trains students to participate in faculty research as preparation for pursuing honors theses and provides them with background to apply effectively to graduate programs or pursue other opportunities in which research plays a role. This project will thus contribute to the development of the nation's scientific infrastructure by providing the next generation of researchers with experience as undergraduates. The publicly available, user-friendly database will serve as a source of information for a variety of other analyses of interest to researchers and human rights advocates alike.

Project Report

NSF grant #1123666 supported cleaning the Ill-Treatment and Torture (ITT) data for public use. Critically, it provided undergraduate students at Florida State University with valuable research experience. The ITT data include information on Amnesty International (AI) allegations of government torture and ill-treatment from 1995 to 2005 and are now posted for public use on our project website located at To date, we have published one paper using the ITT data. An introduction to the ITT country-year data is forthcoming (2012) in International Studies Perspectives, and we are preparing a paper that introduces the event data for submission to a political science journal. We are also currently involved in two substantive research projects using the data. We have presented preliminary findings of our work using the ITT data at several academic conferences and workshops including the 2012 Visions in Methodology Workshop (Pennsylvania State University) and the 2012 Autocracies and International Relations Workshop (Rice University). Future public outreach will include news and media releases to publicize our findings, as well as blog posts. Other scholars have begun using the data, and those studies produce published articles and books. Indeed, the impact of the ITT data will be global, as witnessed by a workshop in the summer of 2013 at the University of Oslo Workshop which will bring together scholars from around the world who are doing scientific, data centered research on human rights.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Brian D. Humes
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Florida State University
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