Revisiting the Causal Links between Economic Sanctions and Human Rights Violations


There is some consensus in the literature that economic sanctions might prompt more human rights abuses in target countries. Yet, the causal mechanisms underlining the sanctions–repression nexus remain little understood. Using causal mediation analysis, we examine the processes through which sanctions might deteriorate human rights conditions. We specifically propose two indirect mechanisms driving human rights violations: increased domestic dissent and reduced government capacity. Sanctions are likely to trigger domestic dissent, and this instability would further induce the government to employ repression. Reduced government capacity caused by sanctions will harm the government’s ability to screen and oversee its security agents, which would subsequently lead to increased human rights abuses. Results from a time-series, cross-national data analysis indicate that sanctions-induced dissent, particularly violent dissent, plays a significant mediating role in the sanctions–repression link. Likewise, we find strong evidence that diminished fiscal capacity triggered by sanctions is likely to result in more repression. There is also some modest evidence that corruption as a proxy for poor governance mediates the sanctions–repression relationship.

Publication Title

Political Research Quarterly