Until this week during which our class’ focus shifted to large-n neo-positivist research, I had mostly considered my puzzle in terms of a handful of cases I was familiar with. I was aware, however, that torture has been used in prisons worldwide for centuries. Because I am interested in investigating the causes for the closure of each of these facilities, I knew I needed to address the duration of operation in each prison utilizing torture. Therefore, to compare a larger number of cases in a large-n research project, I would use years of operation as my dependent variable, allowing me to have an interval-ratio value to analyze statistically if needed. Ideally the nature of my independent variable will demonstrate some kind of correlation to the number of years each institution remained open.
As for finding the data for my dependent variable, I could not find any datasets including information on duration of prison operation internationally, especially not regarding prisons of torture. Given the specificity and scale of my subject matter I expected to need to search for my own data and found a few sources that I might be able to pull from. First, I found that the United Nations has a Committee Against Torture which publishes factsheets on systems of torture and the organization’s actions in response.¹ While not all of the information on torture is specifically related to prisons, I can sift through the data and pick the cases relevant to my research. The limitation of the UN site is that the information is mostly about ongoing crises and there is not necessarily a precise duration in years listed for each case. Regarding the scope, there is some measure of information on almost every country’s involvement with the committee and/or record with torture.
Another organization that has poured significant resources into investigating the persistence of detainee torture is Amnesty International. As an NGO dedicated to achieving human rights globally, Amnesty International has published numerous reports detailing the facts surrounding various torture practices globally.² This is another source I can sift through to find cases matching the parameters of my research to use for my dependent variable. The potential limitation on this data is that it is funded by a private organization, so it will be essential for me to consider the organization’s motivations and perspectives in finding their data. As for scope, Amnesty International provides a slightly broader offering of cases going further back in time and they also describe issues at the sub-state level more frequently than the United Nations.
¹ “OHCHR | Committee against Torture,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, accessed October 11, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cat/pages/catindex.aspx.
² “Torture and Prison Abuse,” accessed October 11, 2018, https://www.globalpolicy.org/us-un-and-international-law-8-24/torture-and-prison-abuse.html.