Rebecca Sanders

Rebecca Sanders

Associate Professor

School of Public & International Affairs

Professional Summary


I am an Associate Professor of Political Science in the School of Public and International Affairs and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. I previously completed my Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Toronto and received my M.A. and B.A. from McGill University.

My research agenda addresses pressing global challenges at the intersection of international human rights, international security, and public health. I am especially interested in how societies grapple with rights tradeoffs in real and perceived emergencies and the dynamics of rights advancement and retrenchment.  

My book, Plausible Legality: Legal Culture and Political Imperative in the Global War on Terror (Oxford University Press, 2018), and related journal articles examine the capacity of international human rights and humanitarian law to constrain controversial state security practices such as torture, indefinite detention, targeted killing, and mass surveillance. Further ongoing research examines the consequences of authoritarian populism for international legal norms as well as uneven state responses to the rapid proliferation of far-right political violence and terrorism.

My next major project is focused on backlash against international women's rights and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights at the United Nations and across comparative national cases. Transnationally coordinated attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and conservative efforts to revive biologically deterministic understandings of gender roles and identities threaten to erode rights protections and reverse efforts to achieve gender equity. My concern for women’s rights also animates my participation in a community-engaged feminist research initiative with the Cities for CEDAW movement, which aims to promote international human rights norms through local politics.

Alongside this work, I have received National Science Foundation funding for a large study of public perceptions of civil rights and public health tradeoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. This project examines similarities and differences between tradeoffs in the post-9/11 counterterrorism context and the current pandemic crisis and analyzes the dynamics of threat construction and blame attribution. Additional research investigates the opportunistic securitization of health and implications for migration and asylum policy around the world. 


Ph.D. : Department of Political Science, University of Toronto 2012

M.A. : Department of Political Science, McGill University 2005

B.A. (Honours): Arts and Science, McGill University 2003

Research and Practice Interests

International Security
International and National Security Law
Global Governance
Terrorism and Counterterrorism
American Foreign Policy
Intelligence Agencies
North-South Relations
Ethics and International Relations
Human Rights
Women's Rights
Norm Contestation

Research Support

Grant: #URC Faculty 2012-13 Investigators:Sanders, Rebecca 05-01-2013 -06-30-2013 UC's University Research Council Permissive Constraint: The Paradox of Law in the American “Global War on Terror” Role:PI $8,000.00 Closed Level:Internal UC

Grant: #R40746 Investigators:Jenkins, Laura; Sanders, Rebecca 07-01-2019 -12-31-2020 UC's AHSS Faculty Research Summer Stipend Program The Indivisibility of Human Rights?: Religious Freedom, Women’s Rights, and Conflicting International Legal Claims Role:PI $10,000.00 Active Level:Internal UC

Grant: #SES-2034367 Investigators:Mewhirter, Jack; Sanders, Rebecca 07-01-2020 -06-30-2021 National Science Foundation RAPID: Public Perceptions of Civil Rights Trade-Offs During the COVID-19 Pandemic Role:PI $199,251.00 Awarded Level:Federal


Peer Reviewed Publications

Rebecca Sanders. (2011. ) “(Im)plausible legality: The rationalisation of human rights abuses in the American ‘Global War on Terror’" .The International Journal of Human Rights, , 15 (4 ) ,605-626

Rebecca Sanders. (2014. ) "Legal Frontiers: Targeted Killing at the Borders of War" .Journal of Human Rights, , 13 (4 ) ,512-536

Rebecca Sanders. (2016. ) "Norm Proxy War and Resistance Through Outsourcing: The Dynamics of Transnational Human Rights Contestation" .Human Rights Review, , 17 (2 ) ,165-191

Rebecca Sanders. (2015. ) "Torture" .The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, , Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell ,

Rebecca Sanders. (2018. ) "Human Rights Abuses at the Limits of the Law: Legal Instabilities and Vulnerabilities in the "Global War on Terror”" .Review of International Studies, , 44 (1 ) ,2-23

Rebecca Sanders. (2018. ) "Norm Spoiling: Undermining the International Women's Rights Agenda" .International Affairs, , 94 (2 ) ,271-291

Andrea Birdsall and Rebecca Sanders (2020. ) "Trumping International Law?" .International Studies Perspectives, , 21 (3 ) ,275-297

Rebecca Sanders (2021. ) "Human Rights and Counterterrorism: The American “Global War on Terror"" .International Human Rights in War, , edited by Damien Rodgers and Stephen Hoadley, Singapore: Springer Press ,

Danielle McLaughlin, Jack Mewhirter, and Rebecca Sanders (2021. ) "The Belief That Politics Drive Scientific Research & Its Impact on COVID-19 Risk Assessments" .PLOS ONE, , 16 (4 ) ,

Anne Sisson Runyan and Rebecca Sanders (2021. ) "Prospects for Realizing International Women’s Rights Law Through Local Governance: The Case of Cities for CEDAW" .Human Rights Review , , 22 (3 ) ,303-325

Jack Mewhirter, Mustafa Sagir, and Rebecca Sanders (2022. ) "Towards a Predictive Model of COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy among American Adults" .Vaccine, , 40 (12 ) ,1783-1789

Andrea Birdsall and Rebecca Sanders (2023. ) "Opportunistic Oppression: U.S. Migration and Public Health Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic" .The International Journal of Human Rights, , 27 (5 ) ,809-829

Rebecca Sanders and Laura Dudley Jenkins (2022. ) "Control, Alt, Delete: Patriarchal Populist Attacks on International Women’s Rights" .Global Constitutionalism, , 11 (3 ) ,401-429

Rebecca Sanders and Laura Dudley Jenkins (2022. ) "Special Issue Introduction: Contemporary International Anti-Feminism" .Global Constitutionalism, , 11 (3 ) ,369-378

Rebecca Sanders and Laura Dudley Jenkins (2023. ) "Patriarchal Populism: The Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC) and the Transnational Politics of Authoritarian Anti-Feminism" .The International Spectator, ,

Published Books

Rebecca Sanders, Plausible Legality: Legal Culture and Political Imperative in the Global War on Terror .Oxford University Press, 2018

Technical Reports

Rebecca Sanders and Laura Dudley Jenkins (2021. ) Pushback against Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the USA .Power Over Rights: Understanding and Countering the Transnational Anti-Gender Movement, Volume II: Case Studies,7-26

Rebecca Sanders, Anne Sisson Runyan, Jack Mewhirter, et al. (2020. ) Gender Equity in the City of Cincinnati .Report of the Gender Equity Research Team,

Courses Taught

Terrorism and Insurgency Level:Undergraduate

International Law and Organization Level:Undergraduate

International Human Rights Level:Undergraduate

Ethics, Violence, and War Level:Undergraduate

Ethics and International Relations Level:Undergraduate

Human Rights & Security: Seeking Balance in a Free Society Level:Undergraduate

Contemporary International Law Level:Graduate

Fascism: Violence, Power, and Hatred in the Past and Present Level:Undergraduate

Contact Information

5112 Clifton Court Hall
2800 Clifton Avenue
Cincinnati  Ohio, 45221-0375