Kelebogile Zvobgo, Ph.D. Candidate

Graduate Student

University of Southern California

City: Williamsburg, Virginia

Country: United States

About Me:

I am Provost's Fellow in the Social Sciences and a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. I am also a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow. I received my B.A. (with honors) in International Relations & French Language and Literature from Pomona College in 2014. My research is published or forthcoming in the International Studies QuarterlyJournal of Human Rights, and Journal of Political Science Education. I have also written for The Washington Post and The Conversation. Currently, I am a Pre-doctoral Fellow at William & Mary's Global Research Institute. Beginning in fall 2021, I will be an Assistant Professor in the Government Department.

Research Interests

Human Rights

Comparative Political Institutions

International Law & Organization



Transitional Justice

Truth Commissions

Accountability Mechanisms

Human Rights Treaties

International Courts

My Research:

My primary research focuses on quasi-judicial bodies that have proliferated across the globe to fill the gaps left by domestic and international law and courts. Like courts, these accountability mechanisms collect statements from individuals who have been harmed by state or non-state actors, conduct an investigation, and enjoin appropriate reparative actions. Thus far, my research has extended to truth commissions and international development banks' compliance mechanisms. My dissertation, Governing Truth: NGOs, Accountability Politics, and Truth Commissions, develops and tests a theory of how transnational advocates guide the creation, design, and effectiveness of truth commissions following political violence. The cornerstone of this research is a novel dataset that captures (1) patterns across commission mandates and powers, (2) the nature and frequency of commissions’ policy recommendations, and (3) the extent to which policy makers have implemented recommendations.


Journal Articles:

(2019) Human Rights versus National Interests: Shifting US Public Attitudes on the International Criminal Court, International Studies Quarterly

The United States—an architect of international criminal tribunals in the twentieth century—has since moderated its involvement in international justice. Striking to many observers is the United States’ failure to join the International Criminal Court—the institutional successor to the tribunals the nation helped install in Germany, Japan, the Balkans, and Rwanda. Interestingly, the US public’s support of the ICC increases yearly despite the government’s ambivalence about, and even hostility toward, the Court. Drawing on the US foreign policy public opinion literature, I theorize that human rights frames increase support for joining the ICC among Americans, whereas national interest frames decrease support. I administer an online survey experiment to evaluate these expectations and find consistent support. I additionally test hypotheses from the framing literature in American politics regarding the effect of exposure to two competing frames. I find that participants exposed to competing frames hold more moderate positions than participants exposed to a single frame but differ appreciably from the control group. Crucially, I find that participants’ beliefs about international organizations’ effectiveness and impartiality are equally, if not more, salient than the treatments. Thus, the ICC may be able to mobilize support and pressure policy change by demonstrating effectiveness and impartiality.

(2019) Designing truth: Facilitating perpetrator testimony at truth commissions, Journal of Human Rights

Truth commissions aim to promote transparency, accountability, and reconciliation by compiling detailed narratives of political violence. To achieve this end, both victims and perpetrators of abuses must testify. Yet, little is known about how commissions can be designed to facilitate perpetrator testimony. This article develops a theory of perpetrator participation in truth commissions, with a focus on institutional design. The article then evaluates the effectiveness of four design features—amnesties, subpoena powers, dual-party agreements, and spiritual frameworks—in facilitating perpetrator testimony in the truth commissions in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Timor-Leste. The analysis indicates that the theoretical constructs developed are present, functional, and influential for perpetrator participation in the three commissions. And, while no individual design feature is essential, the case studies reveal that perpetrator participation may not be forthcoming without a robust dual-party agreement and/or a resonant spiritual framework. This underscores the importance of normative foundations for perpetrators’ engagement with commissions. Crucially, though advantageous features may be present, the criteria required for them to function may not be met, resulting in no effect or a negative effect on participation.

(2019) Smoothing the Pipeline: A Strategy to Match Graduate Training With the Professional Demands of Professorship, Journal of Political Science Education

Faculty recruitment and PhD student placement have become increasingly competitive over the past decade. The emphasis of graduate student training—research above all else—often means a difficult transition into the professoriate, where expectations for faculty are broadened to include teaching and service. In response, we offer a model of an organizational structure for research in which (1) graduate students gain opportunities to collaborate on research with faculty, (2) teach in their areas of expertise, and (3) begin their mentoring careers. We argue that these structures will help “smooth the pipeline” between graduate school and academic jobs and will be particularly helpful in supporting graduate students from historically underrepresented groups.


(2019) The Trump administration opposes the International Criminal Court. Do Americans agree?, The Washington Post

No. But as my research shows, public support for the ICC is hardly unanimous either, and sensitive to how the ICC’s work is described.

(2019) Human rights workers are getting killed in Colombia. Here's what could help save the peace, The Washington Post

Colombia already has in place a tribunal that, if used fully, could help salvage the accords.

(2019) Maryland has created a truth commission on lynchings – can it deliver?, The Conversation

Drawing on my research on truth commissions globally, I share my insights on this historic development.