Do activists from countries governed by authoritarian regimes alter how they communicate with the international community? We examine how domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating under authoritarian regimes strategically adapt their use of language regarding the types of rights-based claims they raise. To assess this expectation, we draw on activist statements made through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) instituted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). For every UPR cycle, the UNHRC receives thousands of document submissions from activists worldwide. Through text-analysis and topic modeling of over 500 documents submitted between 2008 and 2021, we provide empirical evidence of the distinct use of language employed by domestic NGOs based in authoritarian regimes. We further show that the UNHRC itself is more likely to selectively engage with issues raised by such NGOs.

Leonardo Arriola

Associate Professor at University of California, Berkeley and Affiliated Senior Researcher