Co-sponsored with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

How do police and military officers explain their use of torture, and how do they respond to activism against it? Extensive research has investigated when and why states formally agree to human rights treaties. This study, in contrast, examines the individual perspectives of the state actors who are actually responsible for upholding these treaties after states endorse them. Police and military officers draw from conceptions of justice that conflict with the rights framework, and also see the political, legal, and social context in which they work as incompatible with rights protection. Rather than rejecting human rights, though, they interpret them in ways that support acts of violence such as torture. In this way, they use the language and logic of rights to justify their violation. This reveals how states and state actors may endorse norms but interpret them in ways that undermine their purpose.

Rachel Wahl is a Research Scientist at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Her dissertation examined the ways in which law enforcement officers in India respond to human rights advocacy and education related to state violence (Program in International Education, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, New York University). This research was based on her twelve months of fieldwork in India, for which she was awarded the David L. Boren National Security Education Program Fellowship. Rachel has presented her research at conferences in political science, international education, and human rights, and published her work in journals such as the Oxford Journal of Human Rights Practice. She has also served as a consultant to USAID and the Norwegian Organization for International Development (NORAD) under the supervision of Professor Dana Burde. Prior to beginning her Ph.D., she designed education programs for NGOs in New York, China and Peru.