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The Failure of Constitutional Torture Prohibitions

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The prohibition of torture is one of the most emblematic norms of the modern human rights movement, and its prevalence in national constitutions has increased steeply in the past 3 decades. Yet little is known about whether constitutional torture prohibitions actually reduce torture. In this article, we explore the relationship between constitutional torture prohibitions and torture practices by utilizing new data that correct for biases in previous measures of torture and a recently developed method that mitigates selection bias by incorporating information about countries’ constitutional commitments into our research design. Using these new data and this new method, as well as more conventional data sources and methods, we find no evidence that constitutional torture prohibitions have reduced rates of torture in a statistically significant or substantively meaningful way.

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