The Impact of Natural Resource Dependence on Human Right Practices in the Former Soviet Republics

By Samantha Lange


This study explores the relationship between dependence on hydrocarbon export revenues and human rights practices in the context of the fifteen former Soviet republics.[1] Here I seek to expand upon the literature surrounding the “resource curse”— the theory that tries to account for the paradoxical finding that many countries with abundant natural resources are often more economically troubled, conflict-ridden, and poorly governed than countries lacking such resources. I address the question of whether adverse effects of resource wealth extend to include suppression of human rights.  The theoretical propositions advanced are complimented with empirical analyses of post-Soviet states.

Using pooled time-series cross-national data from the fifteen states of the former Soviet Union from 1996-2007, I test the validity of the hypothesis that natural resource dependence, measured as fuel export revenues as a percentage of GDP, has a direct positive relationship with suppression of human rights.  I place my data in a multivariate model, controlling for variables that have been shown to affect a regime’s likelihood to resort to human rights abuse including societal violence, population size, economic development, democracy, and ethnic diversity.

Findings support the claim that increased natural resource dependence is associated with greater human rights abuse, even when controlling for standard explanations for why states violate human rights. In my concluding section, I theorize about the causal mechanisms of the relationship and consider implications of my findings for scholars and practitioners concerned with the prevention of human rights abuse in light of future projections of global energy prices and demand.


Initial optimism in the global community for the prospects of liberalizing society in the fifteen states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) has greatly dissipated.  Over the past decade, one of the more regrettable trends in the region has been a serious decline in human rights conditions. Press freedom, freedom of association, and religious freedom have experienced marked regression throughout the region. Annual surveys of the non-Baltic post-Soviet states by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Department of State, and Amnesty International catalog a range of abuses, from violence against minorities to police torture and extrajudicial killing. This reality is in spite of the majority of these states’ constitutions guaranteeing (in theory) the protection of basic rights and liberties and equality under the law.  For all the attention raised by the concerning trends in the post-Soviet world’s human rights indicators, more has been raised about the region’s burgeoning oil wealth. Russia, the world’s second largest producer and exporter of oil, is also the largest producer and exporter of natural gas. The Caspian region is one of the oldest hydrocarbon producing areas in the world, and is emerging once again as a major source of growth in global oil and gas supply.  Given that the hydrocarbon industry is of great significance in the economic and societal development of the FSU, identifying and trying to understand the links between this industry and human rights conditions in these countries is of significant importance.

Here I seek to expand upon the literature surrounding the “resource curse”— the theory that tries to account for the paradoxical finding that many countries with abundant natural resources are often more economically troubled, conflict-ridden, and poorly governed than countries lacking such resources. This study explores the relationship between dependence on hydrocarbon export revenues and human rights practices in the context of the fifteen former Soviet republics. It addresses the question of whether adverse effects of reliance on export revenues from mineral-based fuels extend to include suppression of human rights.  The theoretical propositions advanced are complimented with empirical analyses of post-Soviet states.

I first provide an introduction to the resource curse literature, followed by a survey of current scholarly perspectives on the presence of resource curse pathologies in the FSU.  Discussion then turns to a theoretical justification for measuring human rights in terms of judicial independence.  Using pooled time-series cross-national data from the fifteen states of the former Soviet Union, I test the validity of the hypothesis that natural resource dependence, measured as fuel export revenues as a percentage of GDP, has a direct positive relationship with suppression of human rights.

Findings support the claim that increased natural resource dependence is associated with greater human rights abuse, even when controlling for standard explanations for why states violate human rights. In my concluding section, I theorize about the causal mechanisms of the relationship and consider implications of my findings for scholars and practitioners concerned with the prevention of human rights abuse in light of future projections of global energy prices and demand.

Overview of the Resource Curse

Although not the first to examine the link between resource abundance and poor development, Richard Auty is often credited with introducing the resource curse thesis.  Auty (1993) describes how countries rich in natural resources had, counter-intuitively, lower economic growth than countries without a wealth of these resources. Auty splits mineral economies, which he defines as those generating at least 8 percent of GDP and 40 percent of export revenues from the mineral sector, into two groups: hydrocarbon producers and hard mineral exporters.  He explores the resource curse thesis with reference to hard mineral exporters as a complement to Gelb’s (1988) analysis of oil exporting countries’ experiences following the oil booms of 1974-1978 and 1979-1981. Auty and Gelb advance the counter-intuitive conclusion that far from improving economic performance, natural resource wealth often retards economic growth. Of particular focus in both studies is the detrimental effects of substantial rents (revenues in excess of production costs and a normal return on capital), when captured by the government through taxation, and their subsequent misallocation.  Here, taxation refers to taxes levied on those extracting the exhaustible resources. Companies, rather than the population, are taxed, thus removing taxation’s role in making those in power more accountable to citizens.

Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner (1997) were the first to confirm the adverse effects of natural resource endowment on economic growth using a global statistical study of comparative growth. Building from the hypotheses and findings of Gelb and Auty, they suggest that natural resources prevent some “activity x” essential for growth and, consequently, hinder growth.  Using the framework from Dutch disease (de-industrialization) models of the 1970s and 1980s, they discuss the expansion of the non-traded goods sector (construction and retail) at the expense of the traded goods sector (agriculture and manufacturing) as quantitatively important economic ramifications of resource wealth. Sachs and Warner follow up on the discussion of economic rents, and touch on the common view that high rents leads to greater corruption and inefficient bureaucracies (9).  Here we begin to see that only in its narrowest form is the resource curse limited to alleging that natural resource abundance hinders economic development; a broader view of the concept includes observations of “curse-like” effects on political and social outcomes.

In her focus on the petro-state, Terry Lynn Karl (1997) observes that resource-based economies not only fail to decentralize, check the rising dominance of the state over the economy, or promote judicial reform and transparency—they do the opposite. She calls the collective of these pathologies the “paradox of plenty” and writes that it is

precisely this framework for decision making, both constructed by and subsequently based upon the highly politicized allocation of rents, that explains the puzzle of the paradox of plenty: that is, why different oil-exporting governments—operating in contexts that differ across regime type, geo-strategic considerations, social structure, culture and size—choose common development paths, sustain similar trajectories and produce generally perverse outcomes (1999:37).

Karl describes the intimacy between economic and political power created by the ability of the political authority to extract and distribute rents. These conditions make economic and political outcomes tightly linked in a manner reminiscent of former socialist countries—a reality that, according to Karl, is missed by most observers.

The trend of focusing on oil rents is continued by Michael Ross (2001), who presents the “rentier effect” as one of three mechanisms by which democracy is hindered in oil rich states.[2] Ross (330) quotes Samuel Huntington, who wrote in his “The Third Wave” of democratization that the democratic trend may bypass the Middle East since many of these states “depend heavily on oil exports, which enhances the control of the state bureaucracy.”  The current study aims to see if this enhanced control of the state bureaucracy, and the connected practice of using low tax rates and patronage to relieve pressures for greater accountability, account for greater suppression of human rights.

One component of Ross’ rendition of the “rentier effect” that is relevant to my thesis is the “group formation” effect. It implies that when oil revenues provide a government with enough money, the government will use that wealth to prevent the formation of social groups that are independent from the state and hence that may be inclined to demand political rights (Ross 2001:334).  Ross admits that whether resource rich states use their oil revenues to deliberately inhibit group formation is a matter of debate.[3] Using a statistical analysis from 113 states between 1971 and 1997, Ross finds that a state’s reliance on either oil or mineral exports, regardless of the state’s geographic location and size, tends to make it less democratic.  Because Ross’ findings run counter to the assumptions of earlier scholars that the antidemocratic effects of oil—if they existed—were restricted to the Middle East, he concludes that his findings highlight the value of bringing cross-national quantitative studies into closer contact with area studies. A few scholars have extended the comparative study of resources and politics to the region in question—the post-Soviet space (Ebel and Menon et al. 2000; Luong and Weinthal 2001; Sabonis-Helf 2004; Fish 2005; Thompson 2006; Rutland 2008).  Their analyses and conclusions are addressed in the following section.

A gap that exists in both the larger body of resource curse literature and the limited scholarship that looks specifically at the societies in the former Soviet Union is how the “curse” plays out in the field of human rights.  The strain of literature represented by Ross, on oil and democracy, is well established; and while there is a definite positive relationship between democracy and human rights protections, the relationship is far from perfect.[4] The same can be said about human rights and economic development.  However, Sachs and Warner (1997:27), in the conclusion section of their paper, are sure to mention that “the welfare implications of resource abundance can be quite different from the growth implication.”  Thus, the current resource curse theories regarding economic growth rates and regime type do not address suppression of human rights directly.  In sum, while much of the extant literature on the resource curse focuses on the impact of natural resource wealth on economic growth and political pathologies associated with resource-based economies (i.e. rent seeking and pervasive corruption), I depart from, and build upon, that research by aiming to address the impact of natural resource dependence, specifically dependence on revenues from fuel exports, on human rights conditions.

While the resource curse is by no means limited to the negative effects of oil and gas wealth, this paper refers only to those effects.  In this study also, the “resource curse” does not refer to the mere possession of petroleum and natural gas, but rather to countries that are overwhelmingly dependent on revenues from hydrocarbon exports.  Therefore, the key independent variable, Dependence, is the export value of mineral-based fuels as a percentage of GDP.[5] Sachs and Warner (1997) and Ross (2001), among others, use this measure for resource dependence. Data to create the ratio variable was collected from World Bank’s World Development Indicators[6] as well as CIA and Economist Intelligence Unit country profiles.[7] Applying Karl’s definition of the “petro-state,” four post-Soviet states qualify: Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.[8] Along with Iran and Uzbekistan, these energy-rich Soviet successor states comprise the Caspian Basin, which is estimated to contain the world’s largest oil and gas reserves outside the Persian Gulf.

Tracking the Resource Curse in the Former Soviet Union

As the main successor of the Soviet Union, Russia is often considered a case apart; this holds true in the resource curse literature.  Steven Fish (2005) and William Thompson (2006) are in agreement that while Russia exhibits pathologies typical of “cursed” states, those tendencies are over-determined.  They are at odds, however, about whether Russia is a rentier state, as Fish expressly rejects that Russia fits that profile and Thompson (2006: 191) identifies it as an “extremely ‘rent-rich’ environment.”  Fish and Thompson are joined by Rutland (2008) in their argument that Russia—both in the structure of its political economy and in its unique path to its current condition—is at variance from other “resource-cursed” economies.

Fish (2005, ch. 5) finds that Russia’s extraordinary endowment of natural resources has inhibited democratization, but in ways that differ from what one finds in other resource-abundant countries.  Unable to find support for the curse working in Russia through any of the three mechanisms identified by Ross (see pg. 4, fn.1), he expounds the ideas that hydrocarbons hindered political opening in Russia by facilitating “runaway corruption” of the state apparatus and distorting economic liberalization in such a way that encouraged policies that reproduced economic statism (Fish 2005:138).  Rutland’s (2008: 1063) take on this development is that the “‘Russian curse’ of statism overlaps and supplants the ‘resource curse’, in complex and unpredictable ways that may diverge from predictions based on the experiences of other countries.  Rutland does, however, agree with economists who point to Russia as illustrative of the Dutch disease phenomenon—one of the most prevalent aspects of the resource curse.

The debate over whether Russia is plagued by the resource curse is not confined to foreign circles.  Russian observers, who have witnessed the influence of petro-dollars first-hand, have probed the dynamics of natural resource dependence, rents, and related economic, political, and social consequences.  Russian journalist Dmitry Yakovlevich Travin, writing in a Russian journal earlier this year, blames the failure of liberalizing the economic system on the fact that too many elites in Russia have a vested interest in maintaining high bureaucratic barriers; freedom of enterprise is not compatible with the rents that benefit officials in control of the economy, he says.  He goes on to explain how society, which has benefitted from the abundance of petrodollars, is not seeking to put pressure on authorities, despite signs of Dutch disease and widespread corruption.[9]

Others, including economist and former advisor to the Russian president Andrei Illarionov, deny that the pесурсное проклятие (resource curse) is applicable to the Russian case.  In a 2008 interview conducted by online newspaper, Illarionov refutes the claim that high oil prices are the main culprit in the destruction of legal and political institutions in Russia. He goes as far as saying that the current status of Russia would be unchanged had oil prices remained at $10 a barrel throughout Vladimir Putin’s presidency.  He says that the resource curse theory is actually beloved by the current regime, because it allows them to blame institutional failures on the price of oil rather than taking responsibility for shortcomings themselves.[10] Изменить положение дел могли бы, наверное, демократизация российской политической системы и расширение сво

Sabonis-Helf, in her case studies of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, finds that if the Dutch disease is a factor here, it is “but one of many pathologies and perhaps one of the lesser challenges these states are likely to face as they increasingly embrace energy exporting” (2004:161). The phrase “no taxation, no representation” system of governance—used to describe when states depend on revenues from export rather than revenues from domestic taxation, causing a failure to develop a basic accountability link—has no definite origin, but is frequently seen in the literature.  Sabonis-Helf asserts that both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan follow the “no taxation, no representation” model and reports that because there is wealth to be gained, and because virtually all decisions are political in nature, rent seeking by state officials is sure to be a permanent fixture.  Also true for both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan is that increased reliance on oil has made the state increasingly hostage to fluctuations in price and export levels; Sabonis-Helf warns that this is likely to cause these states to be responsive to the needs of the energy sector alone (169,177).  At issue for both former Soviet republics are the problems associated with corruption and lack of transparency. Turkmenistan, arguably the most repressive regime in the post-Soviet space, has “classic OPEC enthusiasm for state ownership, state welfare, and state interventionism” says Sabonis-Helf (165).  Kazakhstan, on the other hand, has taken a different approach, with a dramatic opening of its industry to foreign investment and large-scale privatization of the domestic energy sector. Despite these drastic differences in these states’ political economies, both rank among the highest of the post-Soviet states in lack of respect for human rights.

David Hoffman (2000) details the “politicization of oil” in the fourth and final post-Soviet petro-state, Azerbaijan. Hoffman cites economic, geopolitical, and social factors that “mandate” Azerbaijan’s dependence on the development and expansion of its oil industry. Unfortunately for Azerbaijan who, according to Hoffman, does not have much choice in the matter, this “mandated” dependence is sure to have negative economic, geopolitical, and social consequences. Hoffman (69-70) observes that Azerbaijan’s political system is one maintained almost entirely by rent-seeking and states that the country’s current path of development points to “a very strong susceptibility to Dutch Disease.”

Oil, Gas, and Freedom

Notwithstanding the aforementioned gap in the literature regarding the connection between fiscal reliance on oil wealth and human rights practices, speculations about the relationship between the two are not entirely absent.  In 2008, Director of Studies at Freedom House (FH)[11] Christopher Walker, along with his colleague Jeanette Goehring, introduced one of FH’s main publications with an essay entitled “Petro-Authoritarianism and Eurasia’s New Divides.” The essay’s overarching theme is a lamentation over the striking decline in freedom in post-Soviet petro-states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia; via both text and figures, the authors directly connect the undermining of freedom to the rise in the price of oil over the past decade.  Walker and Goehring (2008: 26) call the new oil wealth an “‘authoritarian propellant,’ allowing dominant elites to further muzzle independent voices and assert control over crucial institutions” and place the post-Soviet authoritarian bloc within what they call a “larger, global phenomenon of oil-fueled authoritarian influence.”

In 2006, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published an article in Foreign Policy magazine positing a negative relationship between the price of oil and the pace of freedom in states that are largely dependent on oil production.  Freidman’s (2006:2) “First Law of Petropolitics” theorizes the following:

The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states… the higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded.

Friedman deduces this “law” simply by observing changing diplomatic relations, signs of authoritarian leaders assertively pushing their weight around, and other subjective assessments.  He is the first to admit that his correlations are not perfect or without exception; he simply wishes to raise awareness about a general trend.  It is the goal of this paper to quantitatively test the qualitative observations offered by human rights organizations and media observers.

Human Rights Measurement

The problem of measuring human rights related concepts has received much attention in recent years.  Like other topics in political science, the study of human rights entails problems of comparison, including measurement and operationalization, internal and external validity, case selection, qualitative vs. quantitative analysis, among others (Landman 2002). It is unlikely that a consensual measure of human rights will be found, given the many topics human rights covers, and inevitable disagreements regarding values and definitions within those topics.  Thus, one of the tasks of this study entailed the selection of a sound measure for human rights; one that is both fundamentally appropriate and particularly fitting for the objectives of this examination.

The foundation of today’s human rights regime followed the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a formal agreement on a basic set of rights that all nations ought to protect.  This document, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are often referred to as the International Bill of Rights.  While the UDHR, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948,  and the ICCPR, adopted in 1966, present a widely accepted framework for defining a range of human rights violations, their articles provide terms that are entirely too broad to serve as a basis for judicious data collection.  For detailed operational definitions, I turned to Freedom House’s publication, Nations in Transit (NIT), an independent assessment with a methodology rooted in the UDHR.

First published in 1995, Freedom House’s NIT report is the only comprehensive, comparative, and multidimensional study of reform in all of the former Communist states of Europe and Eurasia. NIT neither rates governments in isolation nor does it rate countries based on governmental intentions or legislation alone. Rather, a country’s ratings reflect the effect of the state and nongovernmental actors on an individual’s rights and freedoms.

Freedom House’s NIT, in consultation with the report authors and a panel of academic advisers, provides numerical ratings for measures of democratic progress, including a measure for Judicial Framework and Independence (JFI). [12] JFI highlights constitutional reform, human rights protections, criminal code reform, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions (NIT 2008)[13]. JFI is intimately connected with the rule of law, which has become intrinsic to the human rights regime.  It is this indicator that I chose as my measure of human rights.  Limiting the term to the category of judicial independence allows me to separate the concept of human rights from related concepts, such as democracy and economic standing, which have been linked theoretically with natural propensities to respect human rights (e.g. Henderson 1991, 1993; Mitchell and McCormick 1988). Also, as I limit my years of analysis according to constraints dictated by NIT, which first included a measure of judicial independence in 1996, I avoid some of the most troublesome obstacles in human rights research, such as missing data and inconsistent scoring that was more prevalent prior to the 1990s.

The precise meaning of ‘judicial independence’ is open to endless debate.   According to Charles Epp, “Courts are structurally independent to the extent that the job security and salaries of their judges, and the decision-making process, are insulated from political manipulation” (1998:11).  Howard and Carey (2004: 286) define judicial independence as, “The extent to which a court may adjudicate free from institutional controls, incentives, and impediments imposed or intimidated by force, money, or extralegal, corrupt methods by individuals or institutions outside the judiciary, whether within or outside government.”  The most widely accepted understanding of the complex, multifaceted concept of judicial independence is put forward by the United Nations:

The judiciary shall decide matters impartially based on fact without undue influence, the judiciary shall have exclusive authority to decide on issues within its competence, judicial decisions shall not be subject to revision, [the accused shall have] the right to ordinary courts or tribunals, and judicial proceedings ought to be conducted fairly.[14]

This understanding has long been advanced by international human rights treaties that contain principles on fair procedure and the right to be tried before an impartial and independent tribunal.[15] The criteria followed by Nations in Transit, which incorporate most of the above provisions, are listed in Appendix A.

Freedom House’s scale is a standards-based measure based on expert knowledge and judgment. Standards-based data in human rights translates qualitative judgments about violations of human rights into quantitative scales designed to achieve commensurability (Landman 2005: 556).  According to NIT’s JFI scale, where a score of 1 is a country whose judiciary is “independent, impartial, timely, and able to defend fundamental political, civil, and human rights” and “there is equality before the law, and judicial decisions are enforced,” by contrast, a score of between 6 and 7 is a country where “The rule of law is subordinate to the regime, and violations of basic political, civil, and human rights are widespread. Courts are used to harass members of the opposition.”  Countries receiving a score between 2 and 6 represent gradations lying between these two extremes. Since “7” is the value assigned to the country with the least respect for human rights, the relationship between Dependence and JFI ought to be positive if my theory holds.

The approach I took in deciding upon a sound measure for human rights conditions highlights the legal and institutional dimensions of human rights. Theoretical foundations for this angle are found Alexander Hamilton’s The Federalist #78, which cites the quality of an independent judiciary as “an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.”  In the essay, Hamilton quotes Montesquieu (1748: 181), who wrote in his famous treatise, “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers” and named a resolute, independent judiciary as an avenue for ordinary citizens to protect their civil rights. Alexis de Tocqueville (1966:261) wrote that an independent judiciary “is yet one of the most powerful barriers ever erected against the tyranny of political assemblies.” The argument that an independent and impartial judiciary is a necessary check on the potential excesses of both the executive and legislative branches, and is therefore the only institution that may effectively guarantee the protection of constitutionally promised human rights, is also seen in contemporary work.

The importance of an independent judiciary in the protection of constitutionally promised human rights and the promotion of the rule of  law has been posited by many political science scholars and scholars of law (see, for example Nsereko 1993; Epp 1998;[16] Prillaman 2000[17]). Shimon Shetreet (2009: 276), in his review of modern judicial independence in the domestic and international arenas, calls judicial independence standards “cornerstones for the substantive protection of human rights and a healthy economic state.”  International organizations and human rights activists are also promoters of the importance of judicial independence, often pushing for judicial reform in their campaigns against human rights abuses.

While specific theoretical arguments linking judicial independence to human rights vary across scholars, there is a general understanding that judicial independence is negatively associated with suppression of human rights. Despite this consensus, there has been limited empirical analysis of the relationship. Published work on the issue is limited to Pritchard (1986, 1988), Blasi and Cingranelli (1996), Cross (1999), and more recently Yamanashi (2002), Keith (2002), Apodaca (2004), Keith, Tate, and Poe (2009), all of whom find quantitative evidence of judicial independence contributing to human rights protections.  Apodaca writes that the reasons for the research gap regarding the relationship of the cross-national effect of the judiciary and human rights are twofold: definitional ambiguity and measurement difficulties. As mentioned previously, there is no consensus among scholars and legal theorists about the definitions of rule of law or judicial independence.  A majority of researchers measure the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the rule of law and judicial independence—which are not necessarily guarantees of state behavior. As Figueroa (2006:5), in his study about judicial independence in Latin America, puts it: “It is false that behavior has nothing to do with the rules, but it is equally false that rules determine behavior.”

It is widely known that constitutional promises do not guarantee actual government practice of human rights.  Fraser (1994), in his study attempting to reconcile divisions in the conceptualization and measurements of human rights, identifies two main domains of the concept of human rights: promise and practice. The fact that promise does not equal practice in human rights is mirrored in judicial independence in that de jure JI (formal laws that define the position of the judiciary with respect to the other pillars of the political system), is not a sound indicator for independence in practice, or de facto JI. I chose NIT’s measure of judicial independence because it measures not only formal legal provisions, but actual fulfillment of these formal promises; it measures not only judicial autonomy, but the power of judicial decisions.  Because the conditions are revisited annually, the measure tracks reform rather than remaining static. I chose NIT’s measure because it theoretically makes sense that the better the country’s score on JFI[18], the more respect is being shown for human rights.

While there really is no “benchmark measure” of human rights, nearly all empirical human rights research focuses on government respect for one category of human rights, physical integrity rights, also called “personal integrity” or “life integrity” rights.  These rights refer to the entitlements individuals have to be free from coercion involving the use of arbitrary arrest, disappearance, detention, torture, and political killing at the hands of their government- the “most egregious and severe crimes against humanity” (Poe and Tate 1994: 854).  This study departs from that practice, as it looks to concentrate on a scope of human rights violations that includes not just the security and integrity of the person, but civil, political and socioeconomic rights as well. Donnelly (1989) argues that to segregate civil and political rights from social and economic rights is to distort reality and the consequence of such efforts is usually the systematic violation of the full range of human rights. He argues for categories of human rights “that are fine enough to capture the complexity of human rights, precise enough to reveal important practical relationships, and open enough to be compatible with a wide range of possible theories” (37). Confident that NIT’s measure of judicial independence provides for these requirements, and believing that the role of the judiciary is particularly important in the protection of human rights in transitional post-Soviet societies in part because of the severe obstacles, including political repression and limited access to resources, faced by a generally weak civil society[19], I examine human rights through the lens of JFI.[20]

Natural Resource Dependence and Human Rights: Establishing a Relationship

Figure 1 shows the average annual cost per barrel of crude oil for the years 1996-2008.  Following the economic crisis of 1998, oil prices began their climb from under $10 a barrel to a peak of almost $150 in 2008 while dependence on fuel export revenues in post-Soviet petro-states rose in kind.   Dependence in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan rose from an average of 16% of GDP in 1996 to an average of 38% of GDP by 2007.  Figure 2 reveals the concurrent decline of the human rights conditions in these states.[21]

The relationship is clear:  As resource dependence increases over time, Judicial Framework and Independence worsens over time in the petro-states.  Meanwhile, in the non-resource dependent states, ranking on JFI remains about the same, not once ranking below the average score for petro-states. While these trends are suggestive of a linkage between Dependence and human rights, concrete conclusions cannot be drawn because this level of analysis leaves open the possibility that other factors may be responsible for the decline in human rights conditions.

Acknowledging this, I placed my data in a multivariate model, controlling for variables that have consistently been shown to affect a regime’s likelihood to resort to human rights abuse.  The theoretical justification for these variables and their operationalization are discussed in the following section.

Determinants of Human Rights

According to Poe and Tate (1994), the first studies that sought to explain variations in human-rights-related phenomena were conducted in the late 1970s by McKinlay and Cohan, who analyzed the general policy performance of military, as compared to civilian, regimes, and rich regimes as compared to poor ones. McKinlay and Cohan (1975-1976) published their work before Amnesty International, The U.S. Department of State, or Freedom House had begun to release annual reports assessing human rights performance on a global scale.  It has since become standard in human rights scholarship to create measures using these reports—particularly U.S. Department of State Country Reports and Amnesty International country profiles.  In its annual country reports on human rights practices, the U.S. Department of State explicitly cross-references its findings with those of Freedom House.

Many of the existing studies in this body of literature do not build time into their work (e.g. Mitchell and McCormick 1988; Henderson 1991, 1993; Apodaca 2004); they tend to be cross-national, cross-sectional sample designs that take no account of the change that can occur within a given country. While differing from the current study in that respect, these studies identify the most salient variables for determining patterns in human rights abuse.  The first control variable, Islam, is the only control variable out of my total of six that is not standard in the human rights literature.

Islam denotes the Muslim percentage of the state’s population.  The percentage of Muslims in countries’ populations changes little over time, and 2009 figures from the CIA World Factbook were used in all cases. Of the fifteen countries, six are predominately Muslim. They are: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  The variable is not meant to test whether Muslims are positive or negative contributors to human rights conditions, but rather to control for the possibility that polities whose populations have differing influence from the Muslim tradition are more or less likely to advance and afford liberal human rights practices.  As Daniel Price (1999:178) observes, a general area of divergence between Islamic conceptions of human rights and those that are represented in international human rights treaties is that while those human rights schemes developed in the West place the needs of the individual over those of the society, Islamic schemes give precedence to society.  Considering the liberal human rights scheme of the UDHR on which NIT’s JFI measure is based, the implications of Islam may or may not have a significant impact on human rights conditions in this study.

Steven Fish (2002), in his study about the connection between Islam and authoritarianism, concludes that predominately Muslim countries may be especially prone to authoritarianism. As for a causal mechanism for this link, Fish systematically questions and discards traditional explanations and then offers his own: the subordination of women and girls in Muslim society.  Using literacy rates, population sex ratios, and women-in-government variables, he empirically establishes women’s inferior status in Muslim societies, and concludes that this factor accounts for part of the link between Islam and authoritarianism.  In his analysis of female subordination, Fish turns to a theme most relevant to my study when he discusses the generalization that individuals who are more accustomed to rigid hierarchical relations in their personal lives may be less prone to such patterns of authority in politics. He furthers this idea by offering the following notion:

One of Martin Luther King’s favorite sayings was that in order to hold a man down, one needed to stay down there with him. One might reformulate the adage as, in order to hold women down, a man needed to stay down there with them—meaning, of course, that oppression as a habit of life blocks the oppressor’s own advancement and freedom (Fish 2002:30).

So, while a measure of Islamic influence is not standard practice in the human rights literature, in light of the fact that it is often present in the resource curse literature, and finding logical connections between institutionalized oppression of half of a population and human rights related concepts, I have decided to include it here.  All that being said, I am also drawn by Ann Elizabeth Mayer’s (2007: xv) point “that Muslims made important contributions to the genesis of international human rights law and are increasingly outspoken in their demands to enjoy the protection it affords.” Having received her well-informed contention that “the assertion that international human rights are ‘too Western’ for use in Muslim societies seems particularly ill informed,” I placed Islam in the model to control for the impact of Muslim influence without an expectation about the direction of that influence.

Societal Violence

Political scientists have produced a growing amount of empirical evidence that suggests that periods of domestic threat substantially increase a regime’s likelihood to repress its people (Poe and Tate 1994; Davenport 1995; Poe, Tate, Keith and Lanier 1996; Keith, Tate, and Poe 2009).  To measure this threat, some scholars use a dichotomous measure denoting the presence or absence of civil war.  In my model, I capture domestic threat using data from Monty G. Marshall’s Major Episodes of Political Violence (MEPV) dataset at the Center for Systemic Peace.  Violence is a measure of the total summed magnitudes of all societal MEPV in the corresponding year, which includes instances of civil violence, civil war, ethnic violence, and ethnic war.  For an incident to qualify as a MEPV, it must involve at least 500 “directly-related” fatalities and reach a level of intensity in which political violence is both systematic and sustained.  A ten-point scale is used for assessing the magnitude of these events and their impact on the societies that directly experience their effects (Marshall 2006).   The expectation is that countries involved in societal violence are more likely to suppress human rights.


Cross-national research from Henderson (1993) and McCormick and Mitchell (1997) indicate a negative link between population pressure and human rights performance.  Poe and Tate (1994), Poe, Tate, and Keith (1999, 2009), and Apodaca (2004), also include population-related determinants of human rights abuse, and find that the larger a country’s population, all other things held equal, the greater the state’s tendency to use repression.  Large populations can create scarcity—a shortfall between what people need and want and what they have. Under this pressure, governments may resort to repression as a coping mechanism (Henderson 1993: 322-324).  Population data is taken from World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI)[22].  The expectation is that the higher the population, the more exploitation and repression of human rights will occur.


Modernization theory, political culture theory, and dependency theory all suppose that democracy entails the protection of human rights as a matter of course (Yamanashi 2002).  Poe and Tate (1994) find that where the level of democracy declines, human rights violations increase. They suggest that “democracies provide citizens (at least those with political resources) the tools to oust potentially abusive leaders from office before they are able to become a serious threat” (1994: 855).  Similarly, Davenport (1999: 92), finds statistically significant support for what he calls the “democratic proposition,” or the belief that democratic or democratizing governments “stress compromise in conflict and participation and responsiveness in relations between rulers and ruled—traits that are inconsistent with reliance on repressiveness as an instrument of influence/power.”  These findings are consistent with those of many human rights scholars (Mitchell and McCormick 1988; Henderson 1991; Davenport 1995; Poe, Tate, and Keith 1999; Davenport and Armstrong 2004). Guided by the understanding provided by these findings, the expectation is that suppression of human rights will be less extensive in those states receiving higher democracy scores.

When studying the relationship between human rights and democracy political scientists must carefully define and measure democracy in order to prevent a tautology in describing this relationship. Marshall and Jaggers’ Polity IV project’s measure of institutional democracy, POLITY2, is calculated as the difference between a country’s democracy and autocracy scores, each of which are based on the weighted aggregation of three components: competitiveness of political participation, openness and competitiveness of executive recruitment, and constraints on the chief executive power.  Conveniently, the score includes no components that measure judicial independence, and omits any consideration of whether a regime respects the human rights entitled to a person, making it an ideal measure to control for democracy.  This differs from other levels of democracy such as the Freedom House democracy ratings, which include political rights and civil liberties criteria.

Henderson (1991) found that the less democracy prevailed, the more poverty existed, and the greater the inequality, the worse the repression.  This raises the consideration of possible effects of economic conditions on human rights.

Economic Development

The findings in the literature suggest that improvement in socioeconomic conditions often result in improvements, albeit often modest improvements, in human rights performance (Mitchell and McCormick 1988; Henderson 1991; Poe and Tate 1994; Davenport 1995; Apodaca 2004).  Henderson argues that economic scarcity in the poorest countries is associated with social and political tensions. The likely sequence between these tensions, increased instability, and the likelihood that the regime will turn to repressive measures to maintain order is in direct contrast with the scenario in wealthier countries where citizens whose needs are satisfied are not likely to pose a similar threat.  Poe and Tate (1999) posit a similar influence of economic development on domestic rebellion. A standard measure of economic development is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.  I use GDP per capita corrected for purchasing power parity (PPP), in current international dollars, to control for economic development.  Data is taken from yearly measures from World Bank’s WDI indicators.[23]

Ethnic Diversity

The relationship between ethnic composition and violations of human rights is not very clear.  Walker and Poe (2002) focus on the effects of ethnic diversity on human rights abuse and find limited support for the proposition that ethnic composition reduces government respect for human rights.  Chris Lee and his collaborators (2002) continue the discussion by empirically investigating the impact of ethnic composition on state violations of human rights using a global data set.  They find “only limited and inconsistent evidence” to suggest that the ethnic composition of a society has a direct relationship with a government’s respect for human rights.  They do find, however, support for the argument that during democratic transitions, the presence of a large ethnic minority group will mitigate the otherwise positive impact of democracy on the provision of human rights. In a relevant observation, Grigore Pop-Eleches (2007: 914) states that ethnic diversity displays a strong negative correlation with respect to FH civil and political rights. Considering that ethnic diversity is a factor in many post-Soviet states, and that some scholars name ethnic divisions as possible important fault lines,[24] I have included Ethnic Fractionalization here to control for those effects.

In cross-national studies of outcomes in political economy, analysts most often use ethnic fractionalization as a measure of ethnic diversity. This is defined as the probability that two randomly selected individuals in a country will be from different ethnic groups. My data was extracted from The Fractionalization Dataset compiled by Alberto Alesina and associates, which measures the degree of ethnic, linguistic and religious heterogeneity in various countries.

If Dependency survives with some weight in the regression model after the introduction of these controls, we can conclude that reliance on fuel export revenues should be considered when determining reasons and remedies for human rights violations in the post-Soviet world.

Methodology and Findings

The general objective of this thesis is to explore the relationship between hydrocarbon dependence and human rights.  To test the hypothesis that dependence on fuel export revenues has a negative effect on human rights practices, I present a model to predict levels of judicial independence and test it using a least squares dummy variable (LSDV) regression. This study utilizes an original data set that is pooled across both time (1996-2007) and space (the fifteen post-Soviet countries). The pooled cross-sectional design eliminates the small N problem of many comparative studies, producing in this case a data set with an N of 173 country-years. The model includes a set of twelve dummy variables, one for each year covered by the data (1996-2007), to cope with autocorrelation that is usual in pooled cross-sectional time series designs.

Table 1. Judicial Framework and Independence (Human Rights Provisions and Protection) 1996-2007ª

Variable Coefficientⁿ Standard Error
Islam -.014* .002
Societal Violence .221* .053
Population .006* .002
Income -.224* .012
Democracy -.206* .010
Ethnic Diversity .482 .265
Dependence .968* .353
Constant 6.070 .146
N 173
*: P<.01

Note: Main entries are unstandardized OLS coefficients, generated using STATA 6.0.

ªThough they are not shown in the table, the model was estimated with dummy variables for each year.

ⁿ Remember that the expected direction of the coefficients will be opposite when one looks at the analysis of the Judicial Framework and Independence dependent variable since low scores indicate provision and protection of human rights and high scores indicate abuse of human rights.

Table 1 presents a cross-sectional LSDV regression analysis, which illustrates the effect of dependence on hydrocarbon export revenues; percentage of a population that is Muslim; the number of major episodes of societal violence; population size; economic development; democracy; and ethnic diversity on Judicial Framework and Independence across time and space. The percentage of variation in human rights abuse explained by the models is 81%.

The results yielded by this analysis show that every 1% increase in the share of fuel export revenues in terms of GDP is associated with nearly a one unit increase in JFI. A one unit change following a quarter-point scale that ranges from 1 to 7 is a considerable one, especially considering that in order for an individual country’s rating to warrant a positive or negative change of three-quarters (0.75) to a full (1.00) point, “significant developments” must have  taken place.[25] As hypothesized, the more dependent a country is on hydrocarbon export revenues, the more repression of human rights is witnessed in that country.

Among the other variables in the model, the only measure that fails to reach significance at the .01 level is Ethnic Fractionalization.  Still, the p value is low enough (.07) so that we can lend some confidence to the regression coefficient which shows that for every one percent increase in the probability that two randomly selected individuals in a country will be from different ethnic groups, there is nearly a half of a unit increase in JFI. The decrease in human rights protection as ethnic diversity increases is consistent with the literature (Walker and Poe 2002).

The hypothesis that an increase in the share of  the Muslim population relative to the total population in the state having a substantive relationship with human rights conditions was realized by the model. For every increase in the Muslim population equivalent to 1% of the total population, there is a concurrent decrease of .01 on the JFI scale. Thus, the difference between a country whose population is made up entirely of adherents to Islam and one that has no Islamic followers, all else held equal, is associated with a difference of one point in the JFI rating.

Each of the remaining variables operates in the expected direction.  For every incident of societal violence, there is a contemporaneous increase on JFI scores of 1/5 of a point.  An increase in population of one million people results in a small, but statistically significant, negative effect on human rights; one that is associated with an increase of only about .01 on the JFI scale. Given the unlikelihood that any of these countries will experience such a jump in population in a short period of time, I follow Poe, Tate, and Keith (1999) in interpreting my results as running against the hypothesis that population change affects repression levels in an important way.  Economic development has a direct negative relationship with human rights violations, indicating that for every $1,000 increase in GDP per capita (ppp), there is a .22 decrease in JFI scores.  Democracy has a similar effect.  For every 1 unit increase on the Polity2 indicator, JFI sees a decrease by 1/5 of a point.  This shows the expected relationship between higher political competition and constraints on the executive and lower levels of repression.   

In this paper I argued that there is a positive relationship between natural resource dependence and suppression of human rights between 1996 and 2007 in the former Soviet republics.  The finding appears robust in that it remains significant in pooled cross-sectional time-series analysis while controlling for those variables that the literature suggests are important in explaining human rights abuses. These findings add to the “resource curse” literature by suggesting that dependence on hydrocarbon export revenues, previously linked to poor economic growth (Auty 1993, Sachs and Warner 1997) and authoritarian rule (Ross 2001), also affects a country’s human rights practices.  Understandably, human rights conditions in a country are affected by many variables– some direct, others indirect, some transparent and some opaque.  Of course, human rights performance is not determined exclusively by hydrocarbon revenue dependence, but the relationship cannot be ignored.

The states of the former Soviet Union have a grave history of political violence and widespread human rights violations.  The recent backsliding in human rights practices are different from pre-independence trends in that states have varying levels of repression and decline.  An analysis of these developments that fails to take into account hydrocarbon dependence may simply conclude that the pattern of human rights abuse in post-Soviet states is a product of continuity with the Soviet system, economic struggles, authoritarian tendencies, or a combination of the more traditional explanations behind political suppression of human rights.  A petro-state based analysis, on the other hand, offers an angle that may explain the similar practices and shared obstacles of these states.  It also may be informative in explaining how the future of human rights practices in the post-Soviet petro-states is likely to differ from other post-Soviet states.

The economic upswing of Russia and the other post-Soviet petro states coincided with the steep escalation of international oil and gas prices.  Lack of development and diversification beyond the energy sector in these states induced a simultaneous heightening in dependence on hydrocarbon revenues.  In recent years, we have witnessed a reassertion and widening of state control over the hydrocarbon sector in Russia, a continuation of an elite patronage network in Azerbaijan, and an entirely unchallenged, unabated sultanistic regime in Turkmenistan. Rising oil exports have made Kazakhstan the most prosperous and stable state in Central Asia; meanwhile, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has manipulated wealth and power in ways that have effectively eliminated all challenge to his leadership. The concurrent decline in respect for fundamental human rights in the former Soviet region seems to be at least in part connected to the fuel revenues that fund these economic and political trajectories.

The current short-term outlook for oil is not without debate, but there is a general agreement that oil prices in 2010 will hover somewhere between $70 and $100 a barrel.  In the long term, the consensus is that high oil prices are here to stay (Blas 2009).  While the fluctuations in oil and gas prices are traditionally interrelated, the current outlook for natural gas is quite different. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts a drop in gas prices in the coming years due to an oversupply of the commodity and a possible move away from the formal linkage between oil and gas prices in long-term contracts.  IEA’s 2009 edition of their annual World Energy Outlook report notes that demand for gas in the European Union will rise in the coming years, but not nearly as much as previously thought. If that plays out, it will hit Russia—Europe’s single largest gas supplier for the past 25 years—particularly hard.  While oil and gas prices are among the most volatile of all commodities, there are some things we can be sure of: The abundance of natural resource endowments in the post-Soviet petro-states are not just going to go away, and the world’s dependence on hydrocarbons for fuel will not be changing any time soon.  Add to this the reality that Europe, Turkey, China, Iran, and even the United States are fighting for their interests in the Caspian alongside Russia, and one can be certain that oil and gas will continue to dominate the region’s affairs.  How will the exploitation of hydrocarbons likely shape the futures of human rights in these post-Soviet petro-states?  Given the relationship uncovered by the study, we will witness more of the same if outside influences do not change.

While there has not been much in the political science literature that has examined the effects of resource dependency on human rights, interest in the topic of how countries dependent on petro-states’ oil supplies should handle business when gross violations of human rights are committed by these oil-rich countries is growing. Western countries do not have a common strategy that advances both energy-security needs and international human rights norms.  If that changes, and human rights standards are brought to the forefront of agreements between importing and exporting countries, that pressure might be enough to make some positive changes in the human rights practices of resource dependent countries that rely on export revenues.

To address Dependence directly through diversification of the petro-states’ economies would be most beneficial.  However, despite both Russian and Caspian leaders’ acknowledgements of the detriments connected to relying on a single commodity, and professed commitments to diversify their fuel-based economies in the interests of the state’s well-being[26], dependence continues to intensify throughout the region.  As importing countries seek to diversify their sources of oil and gas, non-Russian post-Soviet petro-states may have more incentives to expand their energy exports than they do to expand other sectors of their economies.

Can a state have high dependence on oil and gas and support an independent judiciary? What are the obstacles specific to the resource curse as it plays out in the post-Soviet space that get in the way of the two coinciding?  Is it rents that play the largest role? Matthew McCubbins and Thomas Schwartz (1984) argue that independent judges serve as a mechanism for accountability because they monitor the bureaucracy. Because oil rents, and the “representation without taxation” model, act as mechanisms by which the government in petro-states can avoid accountability to their citizens, this effect might carry over into judicial independence. In other words, the removal of accountability links between the executive and legislative branches of government and society via resource curse pathologies may similarly impact the judicial branch so that judicial independence experiences corruption and erosion.   This is just one possible avenue of causal reasoning. More work needs to be done to formulate comprehensive theories explaining why Dependence precludes human rights protections.

Suggestions for Future Research

Because my cases are encapsulated within the former Soviet space, I cannot extend inferences from my sample to countries outside the FSU. I believe it would be beneficial to test this theory in other parts of the world where natural resource dependence and poor human rights conditions exist. Using this model to test the relationship between Dependence and human rights practices in OPEC states would be very interesting.  Another possible investigation for which the current study could serve as a building block is to see how the relationship between natural resource dependence and human rights in the FSU compares to the same relationship in the rest of the developing world.  Given that each of my cases share a common Russian imperial legacy, as well as a Soviet legacy, none of the variation in the model can be explained by those historical factors.  In order to test for the effects of that shared past, a comparative study using a carefully selected group of cases or a large random sample would be necessary.  If the intensity of the relationship discovered in the current study turns out to be higher than that of comparable countries reliant on fuel export revenues, the possibility of attributing that difference to legacies of Soviet rule would be opened for study.

An interesting opportunity for future study presents itself in a new dataset, PETRODATA. Analyses of country aggregates fail to control for local conditions.  While my study is a regional rather than global study, it does not account for differences in rights practices within different regions of a country.  Particularly for large, complex states such as Russia, this may be an important next step in delineating the link between natural resources and human rights.  To facilitate this sort of research, a relatively new global dataset, called PETRODATA[27], allows researchers to incorporate the geographic coordinates of oil and gas locations in their analyses.  A project of the Center for Study of Civil War, the dataset was created to take a closer look at the relationship at how natural resources affect armed conflict, but the information should be useful for other applications, such as the one suggested here.

Another opportunity to expand upon the current study presents itself in a 2009 working paper from Michael Ross, “Oil and Democracy Revisited.”  Here, Ross revisits his “oil hinders democracy” thesis, and introduces a new measure for oil wealth—Oil Income per capita—calculated by dividing the total value of production by a country’s population. Ross says that a country’s dependence on hydrocarbon exports measured as a fraction of GDP has two key shortcomings: the first being that it fails to account for revenues from domestically sold fuel, the second being that it contains biases that tend to inflate its value in countries that are poorer, more corrupt, and more-conflict ridden, which might thereby cause a false correlation with his dependent variable, authoritarianism.  According to Ross, Oil Income per capita removes these weaknesses.[28] While Ross, using his new measure still finds, in keeping with his 2001 results, that oil does indeed hinder democracy, I hope to retest my hypothesis using Ross’ Oil Income per capita to see whether my substantive findings would change with the inclusion of revenues from domestically sold fuel and the removal of the biases purportedly related with the current measure.

Final Note

Most experts in the political economy of energy agree that being an oil exporting state is associated with certain pathological development tendencies, including lack of transparency, lack of separation of powers within the government, a conspicuous lack of equitable distribution of wealth and power, high levels of state debt, and a permanent tendency toward rent seeking by state officials (Sabonis-Helf 2004:160, Karl cited).  If future research further establishes the link between hydrocarbon dependence and suppression of human rights, the scholarly community should add “human rights violations” to this list. This addition would give the rights of citizens in these resource dependent countries a chance to benefit by means of new approaches to resource relations and legal reform.


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Appendix A. Nations in Transit’s Judicial Framework and Independence

Checklist of Questions

1. Does the constitutional or other national legislation provide protections

for fundamental political, civil, and human rights? (Includes freedom of

expression, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association,

and business and property rights.)

2. Do the state and nongovernmental actors respect fundamental political,

civil, and human rights in practice?

3. Is there independence and impartiality in the interpretation and

enforcement of the constitution?

4. Is there equality before the law?

5. Has there been effective reform of the criminal code/criminal law?

(Consider presumption of innocence until proven guilty, access to a fair

and public hearing, introduction of jury trials, access to independent

counsel/public defender, independence of prosecutors, and so forth.)

6. Are suspects and prisoners protected in practice against arbitrary arrest,

detention without trial, searches without warrants, torture and abuse, and

excessive delays in the criminal justice system?

7. Are judges appointed in a fair and unbiased manner, and do they have

adequate legal training before assuming the bench?

8. Do judges rule fairly and impartially, and are courts free of political

control and influence?

9. Do legislative, executive, and other governmental authorities comply with

judicial decisions, and are judicial decisions effectively enforced?

Rating Descriptions

1-1.99 The judiciary is independent, impartial, timely, and able to defend fundamental political, civil, and human rights. There is equality before the law, and judicial decisions are enforced.

2-2.99 The judiciary is independent, impartial, and able to defend fundamental political, civil, and human rights. There is equality before the law, and judicial decisions are enforced, though timeliness remains an area of concern.

3-3.99 The framework for an independent judiciary is in place. However, judicial independence and the protection of basic rights, especially those of ethnic and religious minorities, are weak. Judicial processes are slow, inconsistent, and open to abuse.

4-4.99 The judiciary struggles to maintain its independence from the government. Respect for basic political, civil, and human rights is selective, and equality before the law is not guaranteed. In addition to the judiciary being slow, abuses occur. Use of torture in prisons may be a problem.

5-5.99 The judiciary is restrained in its ability to act independently of the executive, and equality before the law is not guaranteed. The judiciary is frequently co-opted as a tool to silence opposition figures and has limited ability to protect the basic rights and liberties of citizens.

6-7.00 The rule of law is subordinate to the regime, and violations of basic political, civil, and human rights are widespread. Courts are used to harass members of the opposition.

[1] The countries include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

[2] The other two effects are a “repression effect,” which argues that resource wealth retards democratization by enabling governments to boost their funding for internal security; and a “modernization effect,” which holds that growth based on the export of oil and minerals fails to bring about the social and cultural changes that tend to produce democratic government (Ross 2001: 326-328).

[3] Freedom House’s 2008 special report entitled Freedom of Association Under Threat: The New Authoritarians’ Offensive Against Civil Society establishes that associational rights are under particular duress in the FSU, and gives valuable insight into the mechanisms behind the threat. Tellingly, Russian restrictions zero in on organizations whose missions involve human rights generally, elite corruption, police abuse, election monitoring, the Chechnya conflict, and appealing cases of Russian citizens to the European Court of Human Rights.  Similar patterns of systematic restriction of human rights related groups are uncovered in the repressive post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus. (Report issued November 17, 2008)

[4] A positive association between democracy and human rights is expected, but the correlation is not a perfect one, suggesting the presence of “illiberal democracies.” See Fareed Zakaria. 2004. The Future o Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York and London: W.W. Norton 2003) “Across the globe, democratically elected regimes, often ones that have been re-elected or reaffirmed through referendum, are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights. This disturbing phenomenon—visible from Peru to the Palestinian territories, from Ghana to Venezuela—could be called “illiberal democracy” (Zakaria, 17). Also consider the case of India, the world’s largest democracy, whose human rights record is far from clean.

[5] Mineral-based fuels include petroleum, natural gas, and coal, as classified under U.N. Standard International Trade Classification revision 1, section 3.

[6] Tajikistan: While World Bank did not have data for Tajikistan’s level of fuel exports, IMF, EIU, and EIA reports, as well as statistics from Tajikistan’s government ( show heavy reliance on Russia and other post-Soviet countries for fuel.  Therefore, I felt confident using statistical inference to fill in the missing data so that Dependence for each of Tajikistan’s country-years is “0”.

[7] Uzbekistan’s figures were obtained through the generous assistance from John Andrew, the current Deputy Editor for Eastern Europe at the Economic Intelligence Unit. Mr. Andrew supplied compiled information from IMF, World Bank, and State Statistical Committee of Uzbekistan.

[8] The World Bank uses 10 percent of GDP and 40 percent of total merchandise exports to classify a mineral economy. Karl (1997) applies the same formula to classify an oil economy, and this study follows that example.

[9] Yakovlevich, Dmitry. 2009. Ресурсное проклятие России. Neva, No. 2

[10] Нересурсное проклятие 4.22.08 <URL:>

[11] Freedom House is a Washington-based international non-governmental organization, founded in 1941, that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

[12] formerly Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework

[13] Nations in Transit Methodology. Freedom House: 2008

URL: <>

[14] United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 40/32 of 29 November 1985 and 40/146 of 13 December 1985

[15] Article 6 of the European convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) (1950); Article 14of the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights (1966) (entered into force March 23,  1976); Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights (1969); Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981); Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000) all include variously worded stipulations guaranteeing the right to a fair hearing by an impartial, competent, and independent tribunal.

[16] Charles Epp, in his comparative study, states, “the judicial system’s structural independence… is widely recognized as a necessary condition for any significant judicial check on arbitrary power” (11).

[17] Prillaman says that if court behavior is considered in sensitive, high-profile human rights cases in which the civilian government or past military regime has a definite vested interest in the outcome, judicial independence can be measured by tracking the willingness of the courts to rule against that governing body in support of human rights (28).

[18] The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of judicial independence.

[19] A reality that gains significance in the present study when considering Freedom House’s statement that “in societies where political parties have already been cowed and the independent press silenced, civil society is the only entity that prevents authoritarian leadership from achieving the total destruction of pluralism and the very possibility of political choice” (Association: 6). Both political pluralism and political competition are associated with human rights.

[20] To add legitimacy to my chosen measure of human rights, I conducted a bivariate analysis, using my key dependent variable and an alternative measure of human rights—Physical Integrity scores from political scientists Cingranelli and Richards’ human rights dataset (CIRI).  This allowed me to test the 1996-2007 period to cross-validate my Judicial Framework and Independence measure, taking into consideration both precedent and Fraser’s warning that “empirical analyses which seek to study human rights using single indicators run the risk of reaching incomplete or faulty conclusions” (2004:15).  The two variables have a Pearson’s R of .53, signifying a moderate to strong relationship.

[21] The observed leveling of human rights conditions in petro-states from 2004-2008 may indicate a threshold of suppression, or an indication of a variable(s) outside this bivariate analysis at work.  I do not investigate reasons behind this period of little to no variation as the purpose of this test was to establish a simple relationship between an increase in my key independent variable, Dependence, and an increase (worsening) in my key dependent variable, JFI, which was accomplished.

[22] World Development Indicators Online Database (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1996-2007).

[23] Supra n. 19

[24] See Terry Lynn Karl’s “Crude Calculations: OPEC Lessons for Caspian Leaders,” in Energy and Politics in Central Asia and the Caucasus, ed. Robert Ebel and Rajan Menon, ed., Energy and Politics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. (29-56); Thomas Szayna, “Potential for Ethnic Conflict in the Caspian Region,” Chapter 6 in Faultlines of Conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, Olga Oliker and Thomas S. Szayna, eds. (California and WashingtonDC: RAND, 2003), Table 6.8 and Nancy Lubin, ““Turkmenitan’s Energy: A Source of Wealth or Instability?” Chapter 6 in Energy and Conflict in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Robert Ebel and Rajan Menon, eds. (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000).

[25] Nations in Transit Methodology, 2008 Edition. (accessed online 12/01/09)

[26] See, for instance, Послание Федеральному Собранию Российской Федерации (Dmitry Medvedev’s Address to the Federal Assembly) November 12, 2009 <URL:>; and Joint Statement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Kazakhstan, September 29, 2006, which declares a shared commitment to economic diversification<URL:>

[27] The dataset covers the period from 1946 to 2003 (including production volumes and export statistics) and includes information about 114 countries. PETRODATA can be used in country-level studies but its full potential lies in enhancing analysis at the conflict and subnational level.  (Thieme, Rod, and Lujala, 2007).

[28] For details, see Ross 2009. “Oil and Democracy Revisited.”