Doctoral student researcher Rosa Aloisi.

Rosa Aloisi will never forget the crowd of women holding signs in honor of their deceased loved ones outside the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands in July 2009.  The women awaited the start of the trial of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who faced war crime charges for his role in the Bosnian Civil War.

"I'm looking for my son," one sign read.

"Justice for my family," another read.

Aloisi, a doctoral student in political science, was interning at the tribunal, which prosecutes individuals accused of war crimes.  Karadzic faces 11 charges, including genocide, committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians during the war in the 1990s.

Seeking answers

For the women, his trial was perhaps another step toward closure, and redemption for their loved ones who were victims of the war.

"They are truly looking for some answers," Aloisi says of the women. "They're truly expecting that the judges will deliver a sentence that will be at least some small ounce of comfort for these women."

The historic moment made Aloisi realize how important her research on international justice and human rights protections is, not only for the academic world, but for the women outside the tribunal that day.

"When we talk about international justice and the protection of human rights what we want to find is the impact that international justice has on the improvement of human rights," she says.  "And how we can prevent (violations) by handing down sentences that will make sure leaders are held accountable for what they're doing. How can we improve the standing of these international institutions that work for the protection of human rights?

"Most of all, I would like to think our research will improve the conditions of lives of those citizens that live in countries where their basic human rights are violated consistently."

UNT benefits

Dr. James Meernik, acting dean of the Toulouse Graduate School, serves as Aloisi's dissertation advisor. Aloisi chose her field of study after reading articles that Meernik had written about international law. 

She says the academic environment at UNT has been extremely helpful because students receive assistance developing their line of research, and have access to resources -- such as funding to attend conferences -- to help them focus on what they want to do.

"This is extremely important because sometimes you go into studies or into departments (at other schools) that don't allow you to explore a line of research that you really like," she says. "This is a fantastic environment. Professors really care about their students."

International human rights treaties

Aloisi's dissertation research examines the factors influencing countries' compliance with international human rights treaties.  She attempts to identify the link between the ratification of human rights treaties and the behavior of states.

"Everything else being equal, a democracy will always be more respectful of human rights and respectful of international law," she says.  "But I've been finding that given the chances of non-compliance, they would probably deviate from this type of behavior. Not as much as a non-democracy, but they would deviate from this behavior somehow."

Terrorism and torture

Her dissertation serves as a pilot study that she wants to expand to include all six international human rights treaties.  The study analyzes 148 states from non-democracies to democracies that have ratified the convention against torture, one of the treaties.

"The reason I chose the convention against torture is because torture encompasses all kind of violations from water boarding to simply denying sleep," she says. "There are lots of behaviors I can examine as torture. And it's one of the conventions that have been ratified universally."

Transnational terrorism is one situation in which some democracies may not uphold the convention against torture, Aloisi says.  These democracies face new threats, or conditions, that affect the security and stability of their states and citizens, so they may engage in behavior that violates human rights laws.

"You see these kinds of democracies breaching their commitment to the convention against torture, and justifying their behavior of prosecuting individuals that are responsible for transnational crimes such as terror attacks and torture," she says.

Meernik says her research findings could help the international community identify states that face threats and may be at risk of not complying with the convention against torture.  Then, the international community could intervene to help those governments.

"(Her research) can better encourage states to comply with laws on torture, it can design solutions and programs to move states in a direction of greater compliance, and it also helps us predict where torture is most likely to occur," he says.

Aloisi plans to graduate in August.  She hopes to work for an international court in the future.

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