Hi, I’m AJ Simmons. I’m the Director of the Institute for Legal, Legislative, and Policy Studies and the Survey Research Office at the University of Illinois Springfield. My overarching research interests concern the domestic and international politics of elite decision making. These interests have led me to pursue two main interrelated lines of inquiry. My first line of inquiry focuses on elite decision making regarding government policy. My second line of inquiry focuses on demand pressures placed on elites in the form of public opinion regarding policy. Recently, I completed my dissertation under the supervision of Reed Wood (co-chair), Victor Peskin (co-chair), and Milli Lake. The title of my dissertation and current book project is Judging Their Own: When and Why Governments Pursue Accountability for their Own Human Rights Violations.

In my dissertation I employ a strategic actor approach to elites’ pursuit of accountability for human rights violations of their own security forces. My theory posits that the likelihood of such accountability increases when elites perceive they will gain political or military advantage with key target audiences from such actions. In particular, my dissertation focuses on applying this theory to the counterinsurgency settings of the American led occupation in the Iraq War and “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. To explore this theory, I utilize a mixed methods approach that incorporates original field interviews, process tracing, and quantitative analysis to unpack the causes of accountability for human rights violations by state forces.

I’ve also published research on the determinants of foreign policy preferences of citizens in states where great powers compete for influence, on attitudes towards the legal right of international legal institutions to prosecute domestic actors for human rights violations, and on the occurrence of prosecutions for state security forces for human rights violations. My works have been published in The Journal of Human Rights, Human Rights Review, and Foreign Policy Analysis. To view the content, click on the section heading below and a dropdown list will appear. Clicking on the title of the article will link you to the article.

  • “What Courts Matter for Domestic Human Rights Practices?”
  • “Human Rights Accountability as a Tool of War”

  • “Thy Neighbor’s Keeper: Enforcement of Rulings from Regional Human Rights Courts”
  • “Human Rights Prosecutions in Authoritarian Regimes: A Case Study of the El Salvadoran Junta”