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Evasion: How States Violate Human Rights in the Shadow of Legality

Project: 3
Name: Zoltán Búzás, PhD |
Department: Politics


My COAS Fellowship Program research project starts with an intriguing puzzle. Human rights are increasingly legalized or codified in international treaties, and state commitment to these treaties is exceptionally high. Many scholars and practitioners celebrate this development as they see legalization as beneficial for human rights. After all, legalization provides human rights with state-backed enforcement. Yet pernicious practices at odds with human rights and racial equality persist and sometimes even increase following legalization. What explains the persistence of human rights violations after legalization and legal commitment?

Conventional wisdom holds that states commit to but do not comply with human rights treaties. The violation of human rights law is an important explanation for the puzzle, but is incomplete. Exaggerated attention to human rights violations that also violate the law and are therefore illegal conceals a more subtle but still damaging form of resistance to human rights norms: states can legally violate human rights norms. They can act in ways that are lawful but awful.

I develop this argument in my book manuscript titled "Evasion: How States Violate Human Rights in the Shadow of Legality". I contend that because legalization transposes human rights into international law imperfectly, it creates gaps between laws and the underlying human rights they codify. This gap or loophole allows states to do things that are legal but are at odds with human rights. Based on 143 semi-structured elite interviews and the discourse analysis of 1451 texts, I demonstrate the theory's empirical purchase in the cases of the French expulsion of Roma immigrants and the Czech school segregation of Roma children. Under the cover of technical compliance with the law, these states violated the norm of racial equality. The argument cautions that the good news about law compliance is not necessarily good news for human rights, it broadens our understanding of states' repertoire of resistance to racial equality from illegal to legal instruments, and it warns human rights advocates against investing too much of their resources in strategic litigation at the expense of non-legal (political) action.

Gained Experience

Students can learn about the process of developing rigorous case studies, performing comprehensive discourse analysis, and analyzing (and perhaps conducting) interviews. For students that perform well during the fellowship, there is the possibility of continued collaboration. I am also happy to help students develop their own research project.


A book published at a major academic press.


I need help with revising the book manuscript. Students involved in the project can help in a variety of ways, developing or polishing numerous research skills. The most likely tasks include: reading new sources to strengthen the book's case studies; reading new texts to bring the book's discourse analysis up to date; and revisiting the interviews I conducted to ensure that the book manuscript does not omit relevant information from these interviews. I will offer close guidance for all these tasks, so prior research expertise is not required.


The work can be done anywhere in Philadelphia where the student has access to a computer.

Possibility to Work Post Fellowship