Economists, political scientists, and legal scholars have argued that independent judiciaries have an important role to play in promoting economic development and protecting property rights. We argue that judicial independence can also have a positive impact on the protection of human rights. To assess the human rights impact of a de facto independent judiciary, we also argue that scholars must account for the potential of endogeneity between judicial independence and protection of human rights. We examine whether greater de facto independence improves government respect for citizens’ physical integrity rights, using a comprehensive dataset of 193 countries from 1981 to 2010. Employing an instrumental variables approach to control for endogeneity, we find strong support for the argument that greater levels of de facto judicial independence improve government respect for physical integrity rights. These findings are robust to changes in measurement, estimation techniques, and model specification. Failing to account for endogeneity will tend to overemphasize the ability of completely independent courts to improve government respect for physical integrity rights.
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