Dr Vickie Knox

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Dr Vickie Knox
PhD Human Rights
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
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05-Oct-2019 Gang violence, GBV and hate crime in Central America: State response versus State responsibility


Significant displacement is caused in Central America by gang violence, gender-based violence and hate crimes against LGBT+ people but State responses have failed to address their root causes.

05-Mar-2019 Web of violence: crime, corruption and displacement in Honduras (2019)


25-Sep-2018 An Atomised crisis Reframing displacement caused by crime and violence in El Salvador


Research reveals that criminal violence in El Salvador is highly targeted and individualised, and this defines displacement dynamics and protection needs.
In the absence of coordinated state support, people rely on their own networks and often don’t report their situation for fear of reprisal. This means they have few safe options inside the country, which leads to repeated displacement, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and significant crossborder flight.
The research also finds that, in attempting to combat extremely high levels of violence in El Salvador, repressive state security measures have triggered new displacement, as gangs target police and their families, and security forces target young people in gang-affected areas.
The study draws on extensive desk research covering the academic literature and latest empirical reports, and qualitative data collected in 51 interviews with 80 experts in El Salvador and Mexico City during March and April 2018.

05-Oct-2017 Factors influencing decision making by people fleeing Central America

Journal articles

Interviews with people who have fled violence in Central America reveal the influences behind their decision making prior to and during flight.

01-Sep-2015 El Salvador in focus: The criminalisation of abortion

28-Sep-2012 Sonia Tábora and the risks of being poor and pregnant in El Salvador


01-Sep-2012 Abortion in the Americas: Non-Discrimination and Equality as Tools for Advocacy and Litigation

Journal articles

This article explores to what extent International Human Rights Law (IHRL) can make a formal or substantive contribution to access to abortion, analyses aspects of dis-crimination caused by the criminalisation of abortion, and examines the benefits of using the rights to equality and non-discrimination in advocacy and litigation to secure access to safe abortion as a critical component of reproductive healthcare.


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2017 Organised Crime and Migration in Mesoamerica

For many years Mexico has experienced one of the largest flows of transit migrants in the world, and these migrants experience systematic abuse by organised criminal groups during their journey. Added to this, tens of thousands of people are now fleeing criminal violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. This thesis addresses the three links between organised crime and migration in the region, examining how violent criminal groups drive migration, are a threat during transit, and control people-smuggling operations. It takes a morphogenetic approach to analyse the complex dynamics from perspectives of both agency and structure, and to generate causal explanations that reveal the dimensions of the State’s role and responsibility in these.

The thesis makes unique contributions in three key areas: 1). It generates new understanding about organised crime and migration, and about the emerging situation of displacement caused by criminal violence in Mesoamerica; 2). It evidences the value of the morphogenetic approach as an analytic tool to develop understanding about causality and to synthesise debates; 3). It extends broader academic debates on migration, and brings together strands of debate on agency and decision-making in mixed migration, on policy gaps and adverse outcomes, and on state accountability.

Based on data gathered in fieldwork in Mexico and El Salvador in 2015, the thesis applies morphogenetic analysis to accommodate structure and agency with equal weight, to generate new understanding about the causal mechanisms of change, and to synthesise previously discrete lines of debate. The investigation was conducted in the context of recently externalised migration controls, and these are used a point of analysis to expose their adverse impact on criminal activities and on the human rights of migrants.

The thesis advances the nascent debate on criminal violence and forced displacement in the region by generating new understanding about its external dimension and about decision-making throughout the migration continuum. It adds particular detail about why some people take external flight, the different types of mobility provoked by different levels of risk, and the impact of receiving information on the right to seek asylum while in Mexico. It also demonstrates that when criminal violence drives mobility, neither risks during transit nor restrictive migration controls significantly constrain the agency of those who need to flee, and that traditional pull factors serve more to determine the destination than to influence any decision to migrate.

Analysis delivers new insight into the causal roles of impunity, policy and the State in the abuse of migrants by criminal groups in Mexico. It also generates novel understanding about the role of state complicity and collusion with organised crime in people-smuggling, and how this further entrenches corruption and compromises state integrity. The thesis demonstrates that, when implemented in the context of endemic impunity and systemic corruption, policies intended to curb migration and disrupt organised crime have instead strengthened criminal groups, deepened their involvement in migration-related activities, and weakened state integrity. It also shows that these adverse outcomes were likely foreseeable, raising implications for state accountability.

As well as revealing the adverse consequences of migration policy on criminal activity, the thesis demonstrates how externalised migration controls conflict with Mexico’s international obligations to people who have fled violence and persecution. It further shows how migrant agency contributes to the policy’s ‘efficacy gap’, but also that it is precisely at this intersection of migrant agency and deterrent policy where human rights violations are particularly acute. It uses these findings to build on and bring together debates on state accountability for the adverse outcomes of policy, for the externalisation of migration controls, and for the criminal acts of private actors. It concludes that failure to address state complicity with organised crime is the biggest challenge to migration control in Mesoamerica, and that the human rights situation for Central American migrants in Mexico cannot improve until this is resolved.

The thesis advances understanding about what is currently happening in the region, and its findings have resonance for those concerned with addressing this emerging situation as well as for people studying aspects of organised crime and migration on a global level. The causal explanations and conclusions generated will be of particular interest to policy-makers, as well as to academics working more broadly on mixed migration, policy outcomes, state responsibility and organised crime.

Research Projects & Supervisions
Research interests:
Human rights

Caribbean, North America, South America, United Kingdom
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