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Rights Make MightGlobal Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan$

Kiyoteru Tsutsui

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190853105

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190853105.001.0001

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(p.3) 1 Introduction
Rights Make Might

Kiyoteru Tsutsui

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter offers an overview of the book starting with a summary of the history of Ainu, Zainichi, and Burakumin before posing the core puzzle of the book. It then examines literatures on the history of global human rights and their impact on local social movements, and situates the book’s approach in the broader scholarly approaches in the studies of social movements, human rights, and globalization. It then points to the three key theoretical contributions of the book: (1) the transformative impact of global human rights on local actors, (2) subnational variations in how global human rights affect local politics, and (3) the feedback mechanisms through which local movements influence global human rights institutions.

Keywords:   Japanese minority, global human rights, Ainu, Zainichi (Koreans in Japan), Burakumin, world society approach, institutionalism, political opportunities, resource mobilization, framing, human rights history

On June 6, 2008, the Japanese Diet (national parliament) unanimously adopted a resolution acknowledging Ainu as an indigenous people. Observing from the balcony level, Ainu leaders received a warm round of applause from the parliamentarians when this historic resolution passed. The Japanese public mostly supported this resolution, recognizing Ainu’s history of forced displacement and distinct cultural heritage. Only a generation ago, however, most Japanese, including Ainu themselves, saw Ainu as “a dying race” destined to be assimilated into mainstream Japanese society. Since the mid-nineteenth century, successive waves of modernization have eroded Ainu’s traditional lifestyle and loosened their hold on ancestral lands, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to growing pressure to assimilate. Many Ainu tried to hide their ancestry, closeting off their distinctive cultural heritage except for the prying eyes of curious tourists and anthropological researchers. Even in post-1945 Japan, they were dependent on what little welfare the government provided, with most of them opting for quiet assimilation rather than collectively mobilizing for more rights. This began to change in the late 1970s. First culturally, and then more politically, Ainu regained their indigenous pride and launched a viable social movement. The movement took years to get off the ground and decades to produce remedial legislation. The first breakthrough came in 1997 when the government passed a new law to promote and protect Ainu culture. Then came the pivotal 2008 resolution, which officially recognized Ainu as an indigenous people in Japan—a remarkable development in a country that still thinks of itself as “virtually homogeneous.” Why and how were Ainu, a group with a shrinking population of no more than 25,000 self-identified members, able to launch a large-scale and successful social movement for indigenous rights?


Figure 1.1 Ainu leaders receiving applause when the resolution recognizing Ainu as an indigenous people passed in the Diet on June 6, 2008

Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

(p.4) For Koreans in Japan, a similar watershed moment came with the abolition of the notorious fingerprinting requirement in 1993. This ethnically targeted practice required all Koreans who remained in Japan after 1945 to get fingerprinted every few years, symbolizing the government’s view that they were potential criminals and threats to Japan’s national security. Koreans began opposing this and other discriminatory practices as early as the late 1940s. But without either sufficient internal cohesion or effective mobilizing frames, their mobilization remained weak and ineffectual for decades. Crippling large-scale activism for more rights during this period was the bitter feud between North and South Koreans in Japan that reflected the Cold War in the Korean peninsula. Capitalizing on this internal division, the Japanese government dismissed Koreans in Japan as noncitizens undeserving of rights, which was politically costless since most of their roughly 600,000 members were unable to vote. The tide turned in the 1980s, as North and South Koreans forged a united front, often with the support of Japanese citizens, to advance their common goals, pressuring the Japanese government both domestically and internationally. This led to several successful policy outcomes, the most dramatic of which was the abolition of the widely despised fingerprinting practice. Why and how has a struggling movement by a disenfranchised group made such significant strides since the 1980s?

(p.5) Similar policy success came earlier for Burakumin, the largest minority group in Japan with an estimated population of at least 3 million and a long history of activism fighting discrimination based on their outcaste status. Since 1969, they have repeatedly secured large government investments to rebuild and strengthen local community infrastructure, which helped improve their living environment, thereby rendering less visible a primary basis for prejudice against them. However, discrimination against Burakumin persisted, especially in marriage and employment. To address such concerns, Burakumin needed to change the Japanese public’s perceptions of them. Seeking to leverage international human rights language for that purpose, Burakumin activists called for ratification of international human rights treaties in the late 1970s before launching a campaign to establish an international human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO). Since then, the Japanese government has ratified a number of human rights treaties, and in 1993, an international human rights organization founded by Burakumin activists received a highly coveted United Nations (UN) consultative status. Having entered international forums with a view to changing perceptions about Burakumin in Japan, Burakumin activists became increasingly committed to promoting human rights across the globe, a goal much broader than their original motivation. Why and how has an already established Japanese minority group transformed itself into an international human rights organization since the late 1970s?

Illustrating dramatic changes in minority politics in Japan, each of these cases points to the late 1970s to 1980s as the key turning point. These three groups are easily the most salient minority groups in Japan throughout the post-1945 era, and all three of them have expanded their activism since the late 1970s.1 The politically dormant Ainu launched a national social movement, eventually gaining new rights and recognition. Active but unsuccessful Koreans made great strides in securing fundamental rights. A long established Burakumin movement turned outward toward international arenas and founded a UN consultative status NGO. Why did these three minority groups in Japan all expand their activism around the same time, and what enabled them to realize significant gains in three very different political settings? This is the puzzle I seek to address in this book.

In tackling this puzzle, conventional social movement theories would point us to domestic factors such as political opportunity structures and resource availability. With the same party in power from 1955 to 1993, domestic Japanese politics did not change significantly during this period so as to possibly facilitate activism. In particular, Ainu and Koreans—with only a few (p.6) tens of thousands of members and a mostly disenfranchised population respectively—are especially unlikely candidates for successful mobilization, given the dominance of pork-barrel politics in Japan, which benefits groups that deliver votes while marginalizing those without electoral clout. Japan’s rapid economic growth may have given them more resources for mobilization, but it also provided greater incentives for minorities to choose the increasingly open path of least resistance—quiet integration into the expanding economy. Leading the charge down this path were many leaders of minority groups, who stood to gain from preserving the status quo. Furthermore, the public discourse surrounding Japan’s miraculous economic performance routinely propagated the notion that Japan’s perceived ethnic homogeneity was a major source of national strength, creating a particularly unfavorable sociopolitical environment for minority group challenges.2 Thus, domestic factors do not adequately explain the unexpected explosion of minority rights activism in this period.

Instead of domestic factors, I argue, the growing influence of global human rights holds the key to explaining the rise of minority activism. From the late 1970s, the expanding international human rights regime gradually engulfed Japanese society. The government ratified key human rights treaties in 1979, and many civil society actors joined international human rights activities. In the decades that followed, global human rights ideas changed minority groups’ understandings of their social standing in Japanese society and their resulting entitlement to rights while international human rights institutions and activist networks facilitated such claims. These gathering international forces galvanized the three minority groups into greater activism.

But the specific ways in which global human rights affected each group depended on its conditions in the late 1970s. For Ainu, a small group with a distinct cultural heritage and an easily recognizable claim to indigeneity, global human rights ideas initiated their political activism and guided it toward indigenous rights. For Koreans in Japan, global human rights offered a new conception of rights based on the logic of universal human rights rather than citizenship rights, thus reinvigorating a sputtering social movement that had been limited by Koreans’ marginalized status as a stateless group of noncitizens. For Burakumin, global human rights reoriented and subsequently expanded their activism from an exclusive focus on their own issues to advocacy for human rights across the world.

This book documents the galvanizing effects of global human rights as they advanced all three groups’ activism while highlighting their divergent paths in the struggle against discrimination. Accordingly, the key independent variable (p.7) in my analysis is the growing influence of global human rights principles, instruments, and activities. When and how did human rights become such a potent force in international society? How much influence has it really had on local practices? The next section addresses these questions.

The Evolution of Global Human Rights

Many studies have documented the emergence of human rights as one of the most powerful principles in the international community. Once a radical idea, the principle that everyone deserves fundamental rights just for being a human has been codified into the International Bill of Human Rights, which consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted in 1966; entered into force in 1976), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (adopted in 1966; entered into force in 1976). Many international treaties and organs have emerged since then to stipulate more specific standards of human rights, and a growing number of countries have endorsed these instruments, further elevating the status of human rights as an international principle (Elliott 2011; Simmons 2009; Wotipka and Tsutsui 2008).3 Correspondingly, international human rights NGOs have grown exponentially to promote and protect human rights across the globe (Murdie 2014; Murdie and Davis 2012; Smith and Wiest 2012; Tsutsui and Wotipka 2004). These international human rights ideas, standards, instruments, organizations, and institutions constitute the global human rights regime.

The origins of global human rights have been the focus of much scholarly debate recently. Scholars have variously traced the roots of human rights principles to the Renaissance and the Reformation (Headley 2008), emerging humanism in Enlightenment-era novels (Hunt 2007), or early international campaigns against the slave trade (Martinez 2012).4 While these early expressions of sympathy and solidarity paved the way for later human rights activities, current human rights principles are different in two fundamental ways. First, human rights principles now apply universally to all human beings, not just to men, or Christians, or whites. Second, they can sometimes override state sovereignty, at least in theory.

Undergirded by these principles, the contemporary international human rights regime emerged in the early post–World War II era. The standard narrative is that World War II rhetoric against fascism generally, and in particular the horrors of the Holocaust, catalyzed the emergence of the international human rights regime in the late 1940s (Bradley 2016; Lauren 2011).5 Then, (p.8) the rising tide of independence movements in Africa and Asia dampened the West’s enthusiasm for human rights, prompting the newly independent nations to lead international human rights efforts in the 1950s and ’60s with an emphasis on self-determination and antiracism (Jensen 2016). Soon, however, growing concerns about their own domestic human rights violations led many developing countries to withdraw from the human rights arena. Filling this vacuum, President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy and the Helsinki Accord propelled human rights to greater heights during the 1970s, encouraging many new intergovernmental activities and civil society initiatives (Bradley 2016; Moyn 2010). With the end of the Cold War, the international human rights regime became more functional, as the two superpowers no longer automatically resisted all interventions within their spheres of influence (Buergenthal 1997; Lauren 2011).

Some scholars question the assumption of a post−World War II consensus around human rights (Roberts 2015; Somers and Roberts 2008) and instead focus on the 1970s as pivotal (Hoffman 2011; Keys 2014; Moyn 2010). These revisionists have been gaining ground in recent years, making the history of human rights one of the more vibrant areas of historical research. However contested this history, there is general agreement that international human rights institutions have grown steadily in the post−World War II world. Even during the height of the Cold War, many countries ratified human rights treaties, operating under the assumption that the treaties were inconsequential because one of the superpowers would shield them from foreign intervention even for egregious violations (Wotipka and Tsutsui 2008). These hollow commitments proliferated across the globe until a vast majority of states in the world had ratified core human rights treaties. This paradoxically raised the visibility and legitimacy of human rights principles, making it more difficult for those governments to completely turn their back on human rights even as the end of the Cold War ushered in more effective methods of enforcement.

These enforcement efforts, however, were often tragically insufficient. From Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s to Darfur and Syria in this century, much ink has been spilled on failures of international society to stop large-scale human rights violations (Barnett 2002; Gourevitch 1998; Hagan 2008; Power 2002). Corroborating these reports, early quantitative evidence reported little direct positive impact on the ground from international human rights instruments (Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005, 2007; Hathaway 2002). In the last few years, more fundamental critiques have emerged, ringing the death knell for the international human rights regime (Hopgood 2013; (p.9) Posner 2014). The regime, they argue, has outlived its symbolic usefulness as the institution-building phase has not smoothly transitioned into the implementation phase of major human rights treaties. Critics also charge that the regime is biased in favor of Western notions that privilege civil and political rights over economic and social rights. It follows that the regime is ill equipped to produce local-level changes in practice that require subtle understandings of local cultures.

Important as they are, these biting criticisms overlook or undervalue many positive changes produced by the international regime. Qualitative studies find that a number of human rights reforms have resulted at least partly from global human rights efforts, such as the demise of apartheid in South Africa (Klotz 1995; Soule 2009), the end of the systematic use of torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in Argentina (Brysk 1994; Méndez 2011), and bans on female genital mutilation in Africa (Boyle 2002; Shannon 2012). Some even credit global human rights with catalyzing the civil rights movement in the United States (Anderson 2003; Layton 2000; McAdam 1999; Skrentny 1998, 2002) and the end of the Cold War (Snyder 2011; Thomas 2001). Furthermore, a growing body of sophisticated quantitative studies, using more refined methods and rights-specific measures, report positive effects of international human rights instruments on ground-level practices (Cole 2012; Farris 2014; Lupu 2013). They also confirm the capacity of civil society actors to leverage international human rights treaties to advance human rights reforms, even if the treaties themselves have little direct positive impact (Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005; Paxton, Hughes, and Green 2006; Simmons 2009; Smith-Cannoy 2012). While skeptics continue to lament the regime’s frequent paralysis in the face of grave human rights violations, few would dispute the importance of the international human rights regime in the contemporary world. The normative judgment about the regime’s efficacy ultimately comes down to a choice between seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty.6

In my view, we can gain a better understanding of the regime’s efficacy by examining the precise impact of global human rights, the conditions under which that impact is more likely, and the mechanisms through which it unfolds. Toward that end, this book offers a historical comparative analysis on how global human rights impacted local social movements and catalyzed social and political changes. Drawing on interviews and archival data, it provides a degree of a historical and personal detail seldom captured, probing deeply into the processes through which global forces influenced minority activism in Japan. It also makes original theoretical contributions by highlighting (p.10) three aspects of the global-local interface that have not received sufficient attention: (1) the transformative impact of global human rights on local actors, (2) subnational variations in how global human rights affect local politics, and (3) the feedback mechanisms through which local movements influence global human rights institutions.

Transformative Impact of Global Human Rights

Studies examining the impact of global human rights on social movements typically focus on political outcomes such as fluctuations in protest activities and changes in government policies. Their key motivating questions are: how do local social movements form transnational coalitions and use international arenas to pressure their target; what factors encourage and facilitate these movements; and when and how can they leverage international pressures to produce changes in government behavior? Starting with the assumption that social movement actors are bounded entities with defined goals, they examine how those actors pressure governments into human rights reforms by leveraging international forums and networks. These premises are helpful in understanding how actors with different interests and motivations interact with each other in national and international arenas to produce political outcomes. However, I argue that global human rights have a more transformative impact on local actors that these assumptions would lead us to overlook. That is, beyond changing the strategic calculations of existing movements, global human rights also fundamentally alter the political landscape by empowering local actors into activism, shifting their self-understandings, and reorienting their goals. I seek to highlight these largely overlooked transformative and constitutive influences of global human rights.

Arguably the most influential study on the impact of global human rights on local politics is Keck and Sikkink’s Activists beyond Borders (1998). Based on their analyses of international human rights movements (as well as environmentalist movements), they argue that transnational networks of activists can exert strong influence on policymaking processes, especially when target governments aspire to be legitimate actors in international society and when issues involve physical harm to vulnerable populations or inequality in formal law (26–29). Keck and Sikkink identify the much cited “boomerang pattern” through which groups in repressive countries link with international arenas to exert external pressures on governments to change behavior. Seeking to build a model for policy change, they also delineate the stages of human rights reform, from agenda setting by activists to changes in discursive positions and (p.11) policies by governments, and finally to actual changes in rights practices. Theorizing this process more formally, Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink’s The Power of Human Rights (1999) offers “the spiral model,” according to which, repressive states, when accused of human rights violations, typically start from denial of international human rights norms, then shift to tactical concessions and acceptance of human rights norms before embracing rule-consistent behavior in successful cases. These changes become possible only when domestic mobilization and international efforts combine to exert sufficient pressures on government bodies. This intersection of local mobilization, global human rights, and policy reform became the central focus of many subsequent studies, including Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink’s recent volume The Persistent Power of Human Rights (2013).

From families of victims of forced disappearances in Argentina to groups mobilizing to stop female genital mutilation, these studies have examined a range of social movement actors. What has remained consistent is their portrayal of those activists as strategic actors taking advantage of their connections to international human rights arenas. These ontological assumptions about social action undergird many important contributions to the literature. For example, Coy’s (1997) study of the Peace Brigades International in Sri Lanka finds that the organization cultivated relationships with elite allies in the United Nations to bring greater protection to local activists in Sri Lanka. Similarly, in his study of human rights NGOs in Kenya attempting to stop government repression of ethnic Somalis, Schmitz (2000) finds that they took advantage of campaigns by civil society actors from Norway to gain increasing support for their activism from Western governments. Likewise, Boyle (2002) argues that the Convention on the Rights of the Child provided a legal vocabulary for opponents of female genital mutilation to more effectively pressure states into reforming their relevant policies. Rodríguez-Garavito and Arenas (2005) document the case of the U’wa people’s movement against oil drilling in their territory in Colombia, in which U.S.-based NGOs coordinated media campaigns in collaboration with U’wa leaders to pressure key stakeholders into taking action. From yet another angle, Bob (2005) investigates marketing aspects of movements in Mexico and Nigeria that tried to globalize their activism, and finds that groups with savvy communication skills are more likely to receive resources from international society. Hertel (2006) documents how a Bangladeshi activist against child labor found allies in the United States to successfully pressure Bangladeshi corporations into releasing many children from their factories. Finally, Paschel (2010) carefully chronicles how Afro-Colombians leveraged global norms about multiculturalism to secure affirmative action policies.

(p.12) Perhaps the most comprehensive of these studies is Brysk’s Speaking Rights to Power (2013), which examines a number of human rights campaigns, from antiapartheid and anti-female-genital mutilation to Save Darfur and Get Kony, and identifies key ingredients for successful campaigns, including credible and appealing messengers, evocative framing, effective performance, mobilization of wide-reaching media, and targeting of receptive audiences. In a more explicitly theoretical contribution, Tarrow’s The New Transnational Activism (2005) theorizes different patterns of global-local intersection. Drawing on countless empirical examples, he explicates how activists adopt international symbols in their domestic struggles, diffuse and elevate their local campaigns to international levels, form transnational coalitions, and make claims in international institutions—all in an effort to advance their social movements.7

These studies have built a solid foundation for research on global human rights and social movements, and identified some recurring factors in the global-local interface that correspond to the three key dimensions in social movement studies—political opportunities, resource mobilization, and framing (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996). First, international human rights forums, such as the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, provide disadvantaged groups with new opportunities for claim making, thus enabling boomerang effects. These international forums exert varying levels of pressures on local authorities to address human rights problems, ranging from naming and shaming to legally binding decisions. Second, international flows of mobilizing resources reach far corners of the world and facilitate collective action by vulnerable populations. These resources often take the form of material aid such as foundation grants and government funding that typically flow from developed to developing countries. Equally important are human resources. Activists, journalists, and researchers visit vulnerable communities the world over to offer advice on how to stage effective political mobilization and to expose local human rights violations. Third, symbols and vocabularies that carry international currency can become useful tools in framing movement goals. Seeking to legitimate movements, activists often draw on international human rights documents and slogans used in other successful movements. Such framing efforts often help in publicizing human rights violations and in making the case that the relevant authorities need to correct injustices.

In sum, global human rights assist local social movements (1) by creating new political opportunities at the international level that enable local actors to appeal to international human rights instruments and exert external pressure on local authorities, (2) by increasing international flows of material and (p.13) human resources for political mobilization, and (3) by providing frames for social movements that appeal to and engage international audiences and local publics (Tsutsui 2006; Tsutsui and Shin 2008). These three dimensions offer a useful framework for analyzing the impact of global factors on local social movements.

While drawing on this framework, the following analysis seeks to demonstrate that these dimensions do not exhaust the ways in which global human rights shape local social movements. Instead, I argue that existing studies have largely overlooked the more fundamental, transformative effects of global human rights. Because most existing studies take as given the activists’ perspectives, interests, and goals, they have failed to examine the capacity of global human rights to form and reconstitute local movement actorhood. “Movement actorhood” refers to a subject position through which social movement actors engage in collective mobilization for social change.8 As an analytical concept, movement actorhood precedes and subsequently shapes movement activities, circumscribing how actors interpret their social and political world, formulate their approaches, and carry out their concrete actions.

The existing studies reviewed above typically assume away movement actorhood in order to examine how social movement organizations and activists leverage global opportunities, resources, and vocabularies. To be sure, social movement scholars have examined local actors’ orientations, motivations, and identities in great detail (Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta 2001; Polletta 1998; Polletta and Jasper 2001). Such studies, however, largely overlook the impact of global factors, focusing instead on the influence of the state or interactions among movement actors.

There are some exceptions. Merry (2006) offers one of the few studies that examine the impact of global human rights on local actors’ subject position.9 She argues that women take on a new subjectivity when they invoke international law on women’s rights. Her focus, however, is on negotiations between global law and local cultures and how local actors “vernacularize” or adopt international ideas, rather than how the latter transforms the former. While less explicit about subject position, Leheny (2006) also traces how local actors receive global women’s and children’s rights norms differently, even across different branches of the same organization, to construct different approaches to child prostitution and pornography. Rosen and Yoon (2009) similarly examine the emergence of new subject position among New York City activists as they incorporated an international women’s rights discourse thereby forging a new counterhegemonic space. Similarly to Merry, however, these studies focus on negotiations between global law and local culture, not on the (p.14) transformative impact of global human rights. Shin and Tsutsui (2007) and Long (2014) examine transformation of movement actorhood more directly, even adopting the concept of movement actorhood. The former examines how global human rights transformed activism by Koreans in Japan, but its conceptualization of movement actorhood is inchoate. That is, it does not clearly distinguish actorhood transformation from strategic framing, seeing Koreans’ use of global human rights language as a strategic adoption for broader appeals. Long’s analysis is more specifically about activists’ subject position but the focus is not squarely on human rights ideas, as it examines the impact of funding decisions by global health foundations on Chinese AIDS activists. A more recent study by Paschel (2016) offers a careful analysis of the complex interplay between international norms, state institutions, and black activists in Brazil and Colombia that enabled black political subjects to emerge and gain political successes. While her main analysis tilts toward Bourdieusian field theory and emphasizes the role of the state, it is attentive to how black activists navigated the shifting terrains of multicultural politics in the two Latin American countries, where the image of mixed race paradise gave way to the recognition of black rights, partly as a result of international pressures. I build on this promising line of inquiry to further highlight and specify the constitutive effects of global human rights on local social movements.

My approach is informed by two lines of research in sociology that draw on institutionalist orientations, highlighting the social construction of political action. The first is culturally oriented scholarship in social movement studies that has coalesced into the multi-institutional politics approach (Armstrong and Bernstein 2008; Steinman 2012). This approach sees any collective efforts to resist domination—not just in political domains but also in cultural, religious, and other spheres of social life—as social movements and views culture as constitutive of social movements and implicated in their goals and strategies (Armstrong 2002; Bernstein 1997; Epstein 1999; Goodwin et al. 2001; Long 2014; McCann 1994; Polletta 1998; Polletta and Jasper 2001; Sarat and Scheingold 2006; Skrentny 2002; Taylor and Whittier 1992; Valocchi 1999).10 While not all culturally oriented studies on social movements examine actorhood transformation, those that do are informed by institutionalist insights that culture and institutions shape the political orientations, goals, and strategies adopted by activists.11 I build on and enrich this line of work by theorizing how global human rights influence local movement actorhood.12

The second line of research is the world society approach, which explores how global norms and institutions shape political actions by national (p.15) governments and other local entities, often leading to isomorphic outcomes across disparate local contexts (Berkovitch 1999; Frank, Hironaka, and Schofer 2000; Meyer et al. 1997; Ramirez, Soysal, and Shanahann 1997; Soysal 1994; Strang 1990). The world society approach, like its kin in political science, constructivism, examines the constitutive effects of international ideas and norms on the construction of national interest and transformations of national identity (Dobbin, Simmons, and Garrett 2007; Finnemore 1996a, 1996b; Goodman and Jinks 2013; Khagram 2004; Risse et al. 1999, 2013). However, this research has overwhelmingly focused on government policies and organizational structures at the expense of individual level transformation, which was merely assumed in the aggregate-level outcomes. With the exception of a few recent studies that have examined individual-level survey data to trace the impact of global norms on personal attitude and behavior (Allendorf and Thornton 2015; Hadler, Tsutsui, and Chin 2012; Pierotti 2013), few studies in this tradition have examined the meso- to micro-level processes through which global norms transform and constitute political actorhood. By focusing on the mechanisms through which global human rights shape local movement actorhood, my study offers an important contribution to the world society approach and constructivism alike.

Subnational Variations in the Impact of Global Human Rights

The world society approach offers additional insights about the impact of global forces on local politics. One key argument in this approach is about the decoupling of stated commitments and actual practices (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Meyer et al. 1997). Motivated to look like legitimate actors in international society, many local entities adopt globally sanctioned templates of formal policies and organizational structures. Hailed as universally applicable but developed for certain social conditions, these blueprints do not necessarily translate into corresponding practices on the ground. The resulting disjuncture between stated commitments to global models and actual local practices is prevalent across different areas.

When applied to studies of global human rights, this approach predicts that, as global human rights become established international norms, more governments will adopt those norms in domestic and foreign policies but their actual practices may not correspond with those policies. Many empirical studies have confirmed these predictions (Cole 2005, 2012; Frank, Camp, and Boutcher 2010; Frank, Hardinge, and Wosick-Correa 2009; Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005; Lim and Tsutsui 2012; Ramirez et al. 1997). Some (p.16) studies have also found that this decoupling of human rights policies and practices propels previously disadvantaged populations into political action, leading to a global increase in ethnopolitical mobilizations (Olzak 2006; Tsutsui 2004). Trying to adopt increasingly legitimate global models of human rights protection, governments incorporate them into their policies, only to give rise to minority groups’ efforts to realize global models. The principle of universal human rights dictates that everyone, whether majority or minority in a nation, deserves the same fundamental rights. In reality, however, to the extent the traditional nation-state model remains strong, minorities continue to face marginalization. Ironically, the more that international society promotes human rights, the greater the sense of injustice experienced by disadvantaged minorities. The decoupling of the state’s discursive commitments and lagging practices fuels minority activists’ fervor, heightening their sense of entitlement to rights. This paradox of global human rights leads to rising majority-minority tensions across the globe at least in the short term (see Gurr 1993, 2000). Will human rights principles ultimately prevail and secure the rights of disadvantaged minorities? Do we at least see some indication that this is plausible in the long term? Or will we see the world in a constant state of ethnoracial conflicts as human rights principles raise the hopes of minorities only to crush them in practice? Our three cases of minority activism shed light on these questions in the context of Japan.

World society research also suggests that the impact of global models tends to be stronger in countries that are more closely linked to international society (Meyer et al. 1997; Tsutsui and Shin 2008). Applying this to the three key dimensions of social movement theories discussed earlier, it follows that groups in globally integrated countries are more likely to mobilize because they have greater access to international political opportunities, resources, and vocabularies for framing. Their governments tend to be more attentive to international pressures as well. Thus, as a country increases its involvement in international society, the impact of global human rights grows apace. Often amplifying this impact is ratification of major international human rights treaties, which enables infusion of new human rights ideas and opportunities into the country.13

Empirical studies in the world society approach have effectively demonstrated the validity of these arguments. One shortcoming in many of these studies is their methodological nationalism (Beck and Sznaider 2006; Chernilo 2011; Wimmer and Glick-Schiller 2003). Methodological nationalism permeates existing studies on human rights as well as research in the world society approach, leading many to use the nation as the unit of analysis. This stems from the dominant paradigm in comparative quantitative studies (p.17) that employ country-level covariates such as gross domestic product per capita, democracy indexes, and levels of commitment to the international human rights regime as independent variables in predicting numerical human rights scores at the national level. Existing data sources together with statistical modes of analysis reinforce this tendency in quantitative studies. Qualitative studies are not immune to methodological nationalism either. Most case studies on the impact of global human rights on local politics also deem country as the main locus of political transactions, focusing on each state’s domestic political, economic, and social environments and its international relations (Bob 2005; Risse et al. 1999, 2013). Given that national governments are most directly responsible for both human rights violations and remedies, it is unsurprising that changes in national politics become the focal point of such studies.

One negative byproduct of methodological nationalism is an unwarranted assumption of monotonic effects of global forces on various local groups within a nation. Beyond the country-level differences, there are also group-level variations in the impact of global norms even in the same country.14 As Liu (2006:939) points out, an intranational comparison of local groups would be the most effective approach to investigating local-level diversity. Understanding local-level variations is particularly important as practitioners increasingly call for a more customized approach to human rights issues that is tailored to local community-level needs. Scholars also point to the potential of subnational-level units—especially cities since they tend to have a manageable size, a pragmatic orientation, and like-minded populations—in addressing global problems such as climate change (Barber 2013) and human rights (Smith 2015).

By focusing on subnational variations, I sort out three different processes: movement initiation, movement facilitation, and movement reorientation. This typology emerges from examining how minority groups’ political trajectories shape the ways in which they approach global human rights, focusing on their level of political activism and the degree to which they have rights to pursue.15 These two attributes constitute an indicator of each group’s positioning vis-à-vis the national government, or “patterns of embeddedness” in the national context (Liu 2006:939). Crossing these two attributes, three types of groups can be hypothesized, as summarized in Table 1.1: groups that are not politically active, groups that are active but not successful in obtaining rights, and those that are active and successful in securing rights. So how do global human rights shape these three types of groups differently?

Table 1.1: The Impact of Global Human Rights on Different Types of Social Movements


Note: The bottom-left cell is empty because minority groups with a low level of activism and high level of rights provisions are extremely rare.

First, global human rights can help ignite political mobilization by previously inactive groups. Spurred on by the infusion of global human rights (p.18) ideas, groups with vague boundaries and weak political cohesion might (re)discover commonalities and shared grievances, enabling their constituents to gain a new understanding of their problems and rights. These new understandings herald construction of movement actorhood, giving rise to new social movements. To be sure, it is rare for a population with no preexisting shared “groupness” to launch a social movement, but to the extent the group lacks a prior history of sustained collective political action, this represents what I term “movement initiation.” In this process, international political opportunities provide new venues for contestation, and international flows of human and material resources enable local actors to mobilize politically. As activists intensify their mobilization domestically and internationally, the movement gathers greater strength. Examples of movement initiation include black rights activism in Brazil and Colombia discussed above (Paschel 2016) and many indigenous rights movements since the 1970s (Brysk 2000; Dahl 2012).

Second, global human rights can revitalize groups that are already active but mostly unsuccessful in securing rights. Global human rights ideas enable (p.19) such groups to reevaluate and recast their rights claims and to shift their movement actorhood accordingly. What used to seem like an illegitimate claim is now justified by global principles, gaining traction among constituencies and the broader public. This greater sense of efficacy shifts the subject position of many activists, immersing them in a new wave of activism, and prompting even bystanders to support the movement. In addition, global human rights provide the movement with access to new international venues for claim making and linkage with transnational activists who can provide material resources and strategic advice. By shifting their focus to international levels, previously unsuccessful movements can exert new political pressures on their target, leading to more success. I call this process “movement facilitation.” Many cases that follow the boomerang pattern of Keck and Sikkink (1998) fit this description, although the emphasis in studies of those cases is typically on strategic use of international institutions rather than transformation of movement actorhood.

Third, established movements that have already had policy successes extend their activism in a new direction as a result of exposure to global human rights—what I call “movement reorientation.” With their original movement goals meeting some success in policy arenas, groups with accumulated resources and constituencies are often open to a change in direction. Engagement with global human rights at this critical stage can shift activists’ movement actorhood, prompting them to reformulate the goals of the movement, often in a more altruistic and global direction. An early example of this process is the case of “bourgeois radicals,” leaders of the NAACP from the United States. Inspired by universal human rights principles and their organizational basis established in the United States, they expanded their activism into Asia and Africa, seeking to embed human rights in the world and contributing to the liberation struggles in many countries in the region (Anderson 2015).

The empirical analysis that follows illustrates these processes by chronicling the history of three minority groups in Japan. My analysis compares these groups at different levels of activism in a single country to highlight the divergent ways in which global human rights galvanize local social movements. At the beginning of the era of global human rights in the 1970s, Ainu were politically inactive, Koreans were active but not successful in obtaining rights, and Burakumin were active and already successful in securing new entitlements. Thus, my comparative study of these three groups provides significant group-level variation while holding constant the national political, economic, and cultural contexts that shape contentious politics. This “controlled” comparison (p.20) brings the impact of group-level differences into sharp relief. Although caution must be exercised in drawing implications for social movements in other national contexts,16 the analysis demonstrates how groups that are politically dormant launch a social movement (movement initiation), how active but unsuccessful movements achieve greater success by changing their approach (movement facilitation), and how already successful movements head in a different direction (movement reorientation). By shifting the focus of analysis away from the nation to local and global entities, my approach seeks to overcome the limitations of methodological nationalism.

This approach also contributes to the theoretical development of the world society approach. My analysis demonstrates that global human rights enhanced the overall level of activism in all three groups, but that this similarity belies the divergent ways in which groups with different political backgrounds engage with global human rights, pointing to the need for further elaboration in the world society approach’s emphasis on isomorphism, or convergent outcomes in different societies. Having focused primarily on macro-level analysis and produced many important studies documenting the overall isomorphic effects of global models, scholars in this tradition have much to gain by shifting their attention to local-level diversity to specify more precisely the concrete patterns of influence resulting from global models.

Feedback from Local to Global

A third contribution of the book is its examination of the feedback loop from local movements to global human rights. Current literature usually treats the global-local interaction as a unidirectional process whereby the global shapes the local. That is, most studies on global human rights examine how, and to what extent, international human rights treaties and organizations impact local politics, seeing the global entities as preexisting and self-sustaining with little need for local actors’ support. Contrary to this perspective, I argue that there is a feedback loop through which local social movements help consolidate and expand global human rights.

Some studies have examined how local level concerns are elevated to international human rights campaigns (Bob 2009; Brysk 2000, 2013; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Passy 1999; Smith 2008), but few have theorized the cumulative institution-building process that sustains the international human rights system.17 Drawing on a classic insight about institutional reproduction in organizational institutionalism (DiMaggio 1988), I identify two dimensions of this feedback loop: norm consolidation and norm expansion.

(p.21) First, as DiMaggio (1988) argues, an institution has to be reproduced by constant efforts of willing actors who are loyal to the institution and recruit new members. Global human rights institutions are sustained by continued participation of local activists in conjunction with tireless efforts by transnational advocates, officials of the global institutions, and sympathetic governments. Most local actors initially leverage global human rights norms for their own goals, appealing, for example, to the UN Human Rights Council or referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their success in domestic arenas bolsters the legitimacy of global human rights norms, if only because one more country upholds human rights norms promoted by global institutions. This then increases pressure on other governments to comply with those norms and encourages other groups to mobilize for the same rights. Furthermore, having developed strong ties with other activists abroad and accumulated resources for continued engagement, many local activists continue their participation in global human rights activities even after achieving their immediate goals. Motivated to sustain their activism and to give back to the global institutions that helped them, they assist more vulnerable groups to pursue similar goals and engage with global human rights institutions. Pushing the feedback loop forward, these new groups employ global human rights instruments and some of them achieve their goals, further enhancing the legitimacy of global norms and encouraging even more groups to mobilize. Thus, continued participation by local activists and the entry of new actors to global human rights activities combine to consolidate global human rights norms. The flip side of this story is that failure by activists to sustain their engagement and to recruit new groups results in the “deinstitutionalization” of global human rights (DiMaggio 1988). In addition, opposition to certain norms by activists and governments can derail institutional consolidation.

Second, local social movements not only reinforce prevailing global human rights norms but also add new issues to the global agenda. Initially, groups new to global arenas would typically try to adopt existing global norms for their goals. Once their original goals have been met, they begin to pursue specific goals deriving from their constituents’ seemingly idiosyncratic historical experiences and political conditions. As they promote these new rights in global forums, what seemed at first like a unique situation for the group often resonates with other groups in other places and inspires them to pursue the same goal. If the promoters of the new rights, termed “institutional entrepreneurs,”18 succeed in joining forces and mobilizing other actors to support these rights (DiMaggio 1988), the growing chorus of voices advocating for new rights can prompt even some governments to join them in promoting these rights in international forums. In the most successful cases, (p.22) this momentum leads to official international documents, establishing the new rights as part of the formalized global human rights norms. Thus, new norms are established, elevating global human rights standards.

Though simplified here, this feedback loop of norm consolidation and expansion has catalyzed and sustained the growing number of international treaties, organs, and courts that work to promote and protect human rights. Developing in global forums, these processes require collective efforts of many different groups from various countries. Thus, contributions of any one local group, examined in isolation, may not seem substantial, such that the study of worldwide dynamics is necessary to fully understand how global institutions are sustained. The empirical analysis in this book examines a small slice of this broader global process by exploring how minority groups in Japan feed back to global human rights.

Historical Background

My analysis focuses on minority activism since the 1970s when global human rights first entered Japan. The government ratified the two key international human rights treaties in 1979—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights—and civil society actors began interacting with international human rights organizations and activists in a more sustained and deliberate manner. This timing is in line with much of the recent scholarship on human rights history. While the emphasis varies, most scholars agree that the 1970s saw a significant leap in international human rights activities, ushering in an era of global human rights (Bradley 2016; Hoffman 2011; Keys 2014; Moyn 2010). Corresponding with the growth of international human rights institutions, normative pressures increased on governments to comply with international agreements. Japan was no exception. Deeply embedded in international society and concerned with its international reputation, the Japanese government was pressured into ratifying the two key treaties in 1979.19 With the continuing expansion of international human rights institutions and Japan’s increasing embeddedness within the international system, the government grew ever more vulnerable to minorities’ claims for more rights.

The examination of this interplay between global human rights and minority politics in Japan since the 1970s constitutes the main empirical contribution of this book. The detailed exploration of my three cases over time contributes to the growing body of work on minority groups in Japan. While publications focusing on one or another of those groups have increased in (p.23) recent years, minority activism in Japan is a relatively understudied topic in the English-speaking world, and there is, to my knowledge, no book in English that examines all three groups’ activism from a historical comparative perspective. This book fills that lacuna and offers a most detailed account of minority activism and human rights politics in modern Japan.

We begin with a preliminary overview of the three minority groups prior to the 1970s, briefly outlining their relationships with the government and with each other, their levels of activism, and the relevant political and historical conditions that shaped their initial engagement with global human rights. Table 1.2 summarizes the differentiating characteristics of each group. Ainu are an indigenous people in northern Japan, Korean residents a colonial diaspora group that remained in Japan after the end of World War II, and Burakumin a former outcaste group. I will explore each of these features in greater detail in the following chapters, but for now the main takeaway is that all three groups have been treated throughout modern history as ethnoracial others by mainstream Japanese. As the victims of widespread prejudice, they have been discriminated against in ways both lenient and harsh, at times (p.24) subtle and other times overt. Rejecting their marginalization, each minority group rose up to challenge the status quo at different historical junctures.

Table 1.2: Summary Characteristics of Three Minority Groups in Japan


Korean residents



Indigenous people


Former outcaste

Geographic concentration


Kansai (West)/national


Population estimate



1 millionc

Major social movement organizations

Hokkaido Ainu/Utari Association



Buraku Liberation League

Activism before the 1970s

Dormant, little pride

Active but unsuccessful

Active and established

Primary Goals

New Ainu law; recognition as an indigenous people

Securing basic rights

Infrastructure improvement;

eradication of social discrimination

(a) Based on the 1999 government estimate.

(b) See the government website for the official figure: http://www.moj.go.jp/NYUKAN/nyukan78%974.pdf (accessed on September 2, 2009).

(c) Based on a population estimate in the 1980s of those living in the designated Burakumin communities (Dōwa chiku).

Differences in population size and resource capacity shaped the timing and strength of early activism by the three groups. A very small and impoverished group, Ainu engaged in little collective mobilization until the 1970s. In contrast, the more numerous Koreans in post−World War II Japan launched contentious actions on multiple occasions, but their activism was largely defensive and reactive, leading to few rights provisions. Burakumin, the largest of the three groups, were the first to become active, beginning in the 1920s. With their significant electoral clout and more abundant organizational resources, they have been the most well established minority group in Japan, securing some significant policy victories before the era of global human rights. Burakumin activism provided tactical templates for the other two groups, such as kyūdan—public denunciation of discriminatory acts—and gyōsei tōsō—direct action pressuring governments to fund infrastructure improvement projects and other remedial measures.

However, owing to their differing characteristics and orientations, Burakumin’s influence on other groups was limited. While Burakumin, relying on their greater numbers and voting strength, were capable of pressuring the government, the much smaller Ainu and the disenfranchised Koreans were unable to mount similarly effective political campaigns. More importantly, Burakumin’s pursuit of sameness ran counter to claims for difference advanced by Ainu and Koreans. Burakumin sought equal treatment rather than recognition of their cultural differences. Ainu, on the other hand, pursued recognition as an indigenous people, emphasizing their culturally distinct identity and unique historical lineage. Koreans also began by embracing their ethnonational distinctiveness and mobilized against discrimination and for acceptance of their cultural difference as part of building a better life for themselves in Japan. As the largest and most salient minority social movement in Japan, Burakumin’s struggles for constitutionally sanctioned citizenship rights no doubt influenced the other two groups. But those citizenship rights were not enough for many Ainu and Koreans who instead chose to pursue a different set of rights, not stipulated in the Japanese constitution—indigenous rights and noncitizens’ rights respectively. For these movements to take off, they drew on a different inspiration: global human rights, which enabled a small group like Ainu to mobilize effectively for indigenous rights and a disenfranchised stateless group like Koreans to secure basic rights in Japan.

The next three chapters examine the history of each minority group in greater detail drawing on data from interviews and archival research. Between (p.25) 2002 and 2015, I conducted a total of 116 personal interviews with minority activists, international human rights activists, lawyers, scholars, and other key figures involved in minority politics within Japan as well as officials of the Japanese government and international human rights organs. Background information about the interview subjects appears in appendix A. Archival data come from minutes of the Japanese Diet and from international human rights institutions as well as numerous publications by activists, minority organizations, and scholars, both in English and in Japanese. Appendix B lists the archival data used in the empirical analysis. For more general historical background, I also draw on secondary sources.

Interviews and archival data combine to offer a rare window onto activists’ subjective understandings about their movements. This is critical for my analysis since it seeks to examine how their movement actorhood changed over time. I prompted my interview subjects to discuss their own understandings about activism, political environments, organizational dynamic, and personal engagements. I relied also on archival data such as activists’ own publications and interviews at the time of protest events to document their contemporary understandings. When the data come from Japanese sources, I translated them into English.

Each of the three subsequent chapters begins with a prehistory of the group before the era of global human rights in Japan. Readers interested primarily in the more recent impact of global human rights on each minority group might skim through these historical sections before turning to each chapter’s discussion of “the era of global human rights.”


(1.) A standard textbook on Japanese society, for instance, listed “four main minority groups” today: Ainu, Koreans, Burakumin, and immigrant workers who came to Japan since the 1980s (Sugimoto 2003:185). (In subsequent editions, the book discusses a few more groups, but what is important here is that this was the prevalent understanding up until the first decade of the twenty-first century.) The last group, known as “newcomers,” did not exist prior to the era of global human rights, and therefore does not enter my empirical analysis. Similarly, Okinawans became part of the Japanese political landscape only after the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972. There are some immigrants from China who have lived in Japan since before 1945, but they are scattered in small populations and most of them have become integrated into Japanese society without having to hide their cultural identity (Nagano 1994). I also note that the term “minority group” in the Japanese context is simply a numerical concept and does not imply “groupness” (Brubaker 2004) among members or well-defined boundaries between their members and majority populations (Wimmer 2013).

(2.) Even though Japan specialists have debunked the notion of homogeneous Japan since the 1990s, the mainstream discourse in Japan has only slightly modified Japan’s self image from “homogenous” to “virtually homogenous” (Befu 2001; Denoon et al. 1996; Lie 2001; Oguma 1995, 2002; Weiner 1997).

(3.) In addition to the two covenants, seven other core human rights treaties with monitoring bodies have emerged by now. They include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (adopted 1965; entered into force 1969), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (adopted 1979; entered into force 1981), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted 1984; entered into force 1987), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 1989; entered into force 1990), the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (adopted 1990; entered into force 2003), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with (p.239) Disabilities (adopted 2006; entered into force 2008), and the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (adopted 2006; entered into force 2010).

(4.) See also Barnett (2013) and Bass (2009) on the origins of humanitarianism, and Keck and Sikkink (1998) and Brysk (2013) for other examples of early international humanitarian campaigns such as anti-footbinding in China, the Dreyfus Affair, and the Spanish Civil War, which cultivated sympathy and solidarity across national borders and served as precursors for post−World War II human rights campaigns.

(5.) The impact of the Holocaust on the early development of the international human rights regime has long been a subject for historical debates (Burgers 1992; Cohen 2012; Waltz 2002). Early literature likely exaggerated the impact of the Holocaust as the impetus for international human rights efforts in the early post–World War II era, but in the decades following that period, this narrative played a significant role in spreading human rights principles across the world. See Bradley (2016) for a fair treatment of this debate as well as the relative importance of the 1940s and the 1970s in the history of human rights.

(6.) Terrorist attacks since 2001 have certainly changed the political dynamic. Terrorist groups’ disregard for human rights principles (but see Jo 2015) as well as excessive state violence in the name of war on terror endanger the future of the international human rights regime. The recent trend of rejection of multilateralism in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere compounds the challenges. Yet the regime’s institutional foundation seems strong, with multiple treaties and intergovernmental organizations monitoring human rights practices across the globe, and a proliferation of civil society actors working to promote human rights in the world. Even if the future of global human rights is in jeopardy, for the purpose of my analysis, what matters is that global human rights were undoubtedly on the rise in the three decades after the 1970s, the period in which many of the key developments in minority politics in Japan took place.

(7.) Many other studies have documented the impact of global human rights on improvement in human rights practices (Bandy and Smith 2004; Becker 2012; Bob 2009; della Porta et al. 2006; della Porta, Kriesi, and Rucht 1999; della Porta and Tarrow 2004; Goodale and Merry 2007; Hafner-Burton and Ron 2009; Hillebrecht 2016; Iriye, Goedde, and Hitchcock 2012; Quataert 2010; Smith 2008; Smith and Wiest 2012), and some have examined policy changes in Japan, focusing on women’s rights (Chan-Tiberghien 2004; Flowers 2009; Leheny 2006).

(8.) Movement actorhood is related to “identity” but is more limited in its scope. In their call to move away from “identity” and use more precise terms, Brubaker and Cooper (2000) propose three alternative categories: (1) identification and categorization, (2) self-understanding and social location, and (3) commonality, connectedness, and groupness. I heed their call and use the term “movement actorhood” to capture the second category specifically.

(p.240) (9.) Guidry, Kennedy, and Zald (2000) also attend to the importance of identity and culture in globalized social movements, but the empirical chapters focus more on the role of local historical and cultural contexts than the impact of global factors.

(10.) While the framing literature had examined cultural meaning-making processes of social movements, it tended to focus on how existing movements and activists draw on available cultural resources to appeal to their constituencies and legitimate their claims. The multi-institutional politics approach, on the other hand, allows for culture to have the more transformative impact of constructing movement actorhood and shaping movement goals and strategies. This conceptualization differentiates movement actorhood from framing; framing literature presupposes movement actorhood and examines how actors with a largely established subject position make attempts at meaning making to mobilize constituencies (Benford and Snow 2000; Snow et al. 1986).

(11.) I owe this insight to Elizabeth A. Armstrong.

(12.) For my earlier attempts at this, see Tsutsui, Whitlinger, and Lim (2012) and Tsutsui (2017). Brubaker (2004), Lie (2004), and Wimmer (2013) also inform my approach here. Although not directly linked to social movements, they examine the effects of cultures and institutions on group identity formation. Literature in the sociology of law has also recognized such constitutive effects of law on claim makers: rights codified in law can serve as symbols that generate solidarity and identity and help sustain long-term commitment to social movements (Gamson 1991; McCann 1994).

(13.) This is because ratification of major human rights treaties obligates governments to submit periodical reports and implement treaty provisions in local practices. While ratification does not change practices overnight, the political dynamics change significantly because ratification infuses human rights ideas into local politics and opens opportunities for local groups to appeal, formally or informally, to treaty monitoring bodies (Hafner-Burton and Tsutsui 2005; Simmons 2009).

(14.) Some studies use movements and campaigns as the unit of analysis (Brysk 2013), but few use a research design intended to highlight subnational-level variations (with the possible exception of Yashar 2005, which is less about the impact of global factors than about the potency of states’ authority on indigenous groups’ activism).

(15.) Other group characteristics can be studied in this vein. Economic resources, political clout, cultural unity, and organizational cohesion are among some key variables that might affect groups’ potential for social movements. While this research does not directly examine these factors, nonactive groups tend to score low on all these dimensions, and active and established groups tend to score high, while active but unsuccessful groups lie in the middle.

(16.) See Abbott (2004); Bennett (2010); and George and Bennett (2005) for advantages and disadvantages of this type of process-tracing research that seeks “situated” knowledge.

(p.241) (17.) Others have examined how transnational alliances of civil society actors who are aggrieved by economic globalization target policies and practices of powerful international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Khagram 2004; Pleyers 2011; Rajagopal 2003). However, these studies focus on how challengers pressure reluctant international institutions into changing their operations in a new direction such as stopping dam building and prioritizing poverty reduction over neoliberal reform. This is a process of blowback against powerful institutions, rather than feedback to them, which is my focus.

(18.) In international relations, Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) use the term “norm entrepreneurs” to refer to a similar set of actors.

(19.) See Gurowitz (1999) on how Japan’s concerns about its place in international society prompted the government to participate in many international human rights instruments, and Flowers (2009) for an analysis of how similar concerns led the Japanese government to ratify the Refugee Convention in 1981 and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985.