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  • Security Rights, Subsistence Rights, and Liberties: A Theoretical Survey of the Empirical Landscape
  • Wesley T. Milner (bio), Steven C. Poe (bio), and David Leblang (bio)

I. Introduction

Since World War II the proliferation of international human rights agreements has been an unprecedented development in the history of international law. Organizations like Amnesty International, Freedom House, and the US State Department first issued global reports on human rights practices in the 1970s. More recently, these organizations and others have issued human rights news virtually worldwide via the Internet, allowing scholars and practitioners alike to gain a better and more current knowledge of countries’ human rights performance. 1 As a result of these new communications [End Page 403] technologies and increasing globalization and interdependence, governments are finding it increasingly difficult to violate their citizens’ human rights without attracting the attention and the ire of interested individuals, governments, and international organizations around the world.

Lagging only a few years behind the trend toward wider dissemination of information has been an intellectual movement towards more rigorous empirical research on human rights-related topics. Empirical research on human rights has been ongoing for over two decades. It is no longer completely accurate to say that the empirical study of human rights is still in its infancy because a compilation of findings now exists for a variety of human rights-related topics. Among the issues that have been investigated empirically are those that have explained cross-national variations in the realization of three legally recognized human entitlements. These entitlements are closely related to those that have been called “basic rights” by Henry Shue. 2 One vein of research has focused specifically on explaining cross-national variations in security rights, including the rights to be free from torture, execution, and imprisonment, or the violation of what has come to be known as integrity of the person, or physical integrity rights. 3 A second theme of research has sought to explain why subsistence rights, or basic human needs, are protected in some countries and not in others. 4 In the third area of research, scholars have sought to explain cross-national variations in indicators that tap the degree to which citizens of countries around the world enjoy civil and political liberties, or variations in measures intended to capture the frequency of governments’ sanctions that take these liberties away. 5 [End Page 404]

Theorists and policymakers have given much thought to how security rights, subsistence rights, and liberties relate to each other conceptually and normatively. 6 Since World War II, these rights and liberties have been incorporated in the core UN treaties and covenants along with a wide array of other legally recognized human entitlements. From Shue’s perspective, each of the three rights listed is a member of an exclusive tripartite club of basic, or core, rights that he argues is necessary for the enjoyment of all other rights. 7 Jack Donnelly rejects Shue’s notion of basic rights, arguing instead that these three kinds of rights, as well as others, are interrelated and indivisible. 8 Though both of these scholars’ arguments are persuasive (and too detailed to rehearse here), it is unlikely that such philosophical questions will ever be answered with certainty.

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Figure 1.

Various Human Rights and Potential Relationships

What perhaps can be answered more definitively, but has yet to be systematically addressed to any reasonable extent in particular studies, is the vitally important and practically relevant question of how these three classes of rights dealing with security, subsistence, and liberties are empirically related to one another. Though a number of studies investigate the determinants of why these three rights are related, rarely have these rights been considered together in a single, unified empirical analysis. 9 Thus our knowledge of them is rather fragmented—a situation not unlike the “islands of theory” phenomenon that has plagued the international relations field. 10 The goal of this exploratory study, therefore, is to begin the task of [End Page 405] building theoretical and empirical bridges between these islands of human rights research. Figure 1 graphically depicts the types of human rights, and the relationships this article plans to examine. Though the formulation...

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pp. 403-443
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