Daniel W. Hill, "The Concept of Personal Integrity Rights in Empirical Research", August 2013

Repression of the right to personal integrity (or physical integrity) is the most frequent object of inquiry in the social science literature that examines cross-national patterns of human rights violations. Yet beyond a widely accepted list of actions which violate this right, it is not well defined in the body of research which aims to explain why states would violate it. This article argues that a lack of careful attention to the implicit, intensional definition employed in empirical research has resulted in two important pathologies. The first is the accumulation of results that are partly due to tautological reasoning. The main finding of this body of work is that democracy reduces government violations of personal integrity. Though very robust, this regularity exists partly because democracy bears some relationship to personal integrity rights by definition, so indicators of some aspects of democracy are necessarily related to some types of personal integrity violations. The other pathology is that the criteria used to identify personal integrity violations have been applied unevenly. In particular, scholars usually ignore domestic law in favor of the standards set by international law. Where the practice of the death penalty is concerned, however, domestic legality is used to distinguish violations of personal integrity from “normal” government violence. The article discusses the sources and implications of these pathologies and offers suggestions about how such problems can be avoided in future research.

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