I research domestic politics and global governance of human rights and transitional justice, and I have broader interests in international law and institutions, transnational advocacy, political violence, and the politics of law and order.

One research agenda starts from the recognition that democracies often violate physical integrity rights, and this tends to result from criminal procedure and the treatment of marginalized societal sectors rather than of political dissidents. I seek to contribute to literatures on repression, international and domestic legal institutions, and policing, by investigating quantitative and qualitative shifts in violations. My dissertation investigated how public insecurity due to crime affects key mechanisms of global human rights change. I argue that it limits political mobilization for human rights by strengthening public support for heavy-handed policing, which puts political constraints on human rights reforms and undermines judicial protection. I find in cross-national statistical analyses that the association of judicial independence with less violations decreases with increasing public insecurity, regardless of membership in the Convention against Torture (CAT). In analyses of disaggregated torture allegations, I also find that when public insecurity is high, judicial independence is associated with decreased torture of dissidents among CAT members, but not of (suspected) criminals.

I continue to be interested in tensions between democratic accountability and human rights protection, with questions at domestic and international levels. For instance, in what ways is human rights backlash due to public insecurity driven by elites or by public opinion? How does the national organization of policing influence human rights change? Does international human rights law contribute to democratic policing, i.e. policing that is responsive to public needs and legally accountable? Does domestic legal accountability of law enforcement actors influence the sovereignty cost calculations involved in international commitments?

I also have a research agenda on transitional justice, where I am interested in the impacts of policies to address human rights violations committed during violent conflict or authoritarianism. In a recent article with Geoff Dancy on the contribution of truth commissions to democratic governance, we use disaggregated Varieties of Democracy data to show that these commissions are associated with improved democratic practices but possibly weakened non-electoral accountability institutions. In another project, I am working a review article on impacts of domestic and international human rights prosecutions to engage the "peace versus justice" policy debate.


Scholarly Articles

Geoff Dancy & Oskar Timo Thoms. "Do Truth Commissions Improve Democracy?" Forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies.

Oskar N.T. Thoms, James Ron & Roland Paris. "State-Level Effects of Transitional Justice: What Do We Know?" International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol.4, No. 3 (2010).

Oskar N.T. Thoms & James Ron. "Public health, Conflict and Human Rights: Toward a Collaborative Research Agenda." Conflict & Health, Vol. 1, No. 11 (Nov 2007).

Oskar N.T. Thoms & James Ron. "Do Human Rights Violations Cause Internal Conflict?" Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3 (August 2007).

Howard Ramos, James Ron & Oskar N.T. Thoms. "Shaping the Media's Human Rights Agenda, 1986-2000." Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 44, No. 4 (July 2007).


Working Papers

"Police organizational structure and human rights change." Paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference, Vancouver, June 6, 2019.

"Human rights and the politics of law and order." Invited to revise & resubmit.

"Human Rights Change, Politics of Law and Order, and Targeting of Torture." Simons Working Papers in Security and Development no. 66/2018, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver (November 2018).


Commissioned Policy Reports

Oskar N.T. Thoms, James Ron & Roland Paris. "The Effects of Transitional Justice Mechanisms: A Summary of Empirical Research Findings and Implications for Analysts and Practitioners." Working Paper, Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa, April 2008. [executive summary]

Oskar N.T. Thoms & James Ron. "Public Health, Conflict and Human Rights: Towards a Collaborative Research Agenda." Ottawa: Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, March 26, 2007.

Oskar N.T. Thoms & James Ron. 2006. "Do Human Rights Violations Cause Internal Conflict?" Gatineau: Canadian International Development Agency, February 28, 2006.



James Ron & Oskar N.T. Thoms. "The Jury is still out on International Justice." Ottawa Citizen, July 26th, 2008.

James Ron & Oskar N.T. Thoms. "Can Canada Help Curb Civil Wars?" The Toronto Star, April 12th, 2006.