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K. Chad Clay

K. Chad Clay, a doctoral student in the Political Science Department, describes his research as essentially “studying all of the things associated with international human rights practices.” Such research includes, Clay says, “how and why governments respect human rights (or don’t), how other actors view that respect and the extent to which the political processes surrounding human rights play a part in other outcomes”. Much of Clay’s research focuses on the effect and influence of efforts to improve respect for human rights worldwide, such as economic sanctions and the activities of international, non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. He refers to the “ripple effect” that occurs when sanctions or actions taken against one country affect the human rights practices of other nearby or similar countries.

“Things don’t happen in isolated bubbles,” Clay says. “While certain measures may make things worse in country ‘A,’ they may serve to improve conditions in countries ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ It’s a ripple effect outward from that first state to other, outlying states —it’s measuring second or third-degree levels of impact – and includes the effect that these organizations have even in countries they aren’t allowed to enter. I hope that my research can give policy makers and activists a more complete understanding of the broad effects of their actions.”

Since 2006, Clay has worked on the CIRI Human Rights Data Project (CIRI) – named for co-founders David Louis Cingranelli, professor of political science at Binghamton University, and Binghamton alumnus David L. Richards, associate professor at the University of Connecticut. CIRI collects and reports quantitative information regarding the adherence of governments in 195 countries to 15 internationally recognized human rights.

Richards originally sparked Clay’s interest in human rights research and his involvement with the CIRI Project as a master’s student, leading Clay to consider Binghamton for his doctorate. “I knew I wanted to incorporate quantitative analysis in my work,” Clay says, “and the quantitative methodology training at Binghamton is really strong, plus the faculty members here are really well-suited to my research interests. The opportunity to work with Dr. Cingranelli, as well the many other great faculty members in the department certainly piqued my interest in Binghamton.” But Clay’s decision to attend was sealed when he toured the campus and met other graduate students in the program.

“I could just feel that the atmosphere in the department was going to be a really good fit for me, and I wasn’t wrong,” Clay says. “It’s the collegiality here that makes the difference. It’s an open environment – a really great atmosphere for both learning from faculty and for working in collaboration with faculty and other graduate students. In the past year the Political Science Department has produced at least six publications that were the result of collaborative projects between graduate students.”

So far, Clay’s research has found that, in measurable ways, international organizations “do more good than harm.” He explains that “economic sanctions can, too, but in a strange way — it’s a much more difficult tradeoff. At the most basic level, however, my research demonstrates that there are things we can do at the individual level that can have a measurable impact on international human rights practices… actions as simple as participating in international organizations can have a large-scale effect — like Amnesty International, for instance. It’s not a fruitless endeavor. The actions we take can make a difference — my research backs that up.”

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Last Updated: 6/13/12