The Effect of Economic Sanctions on Respect for Human Rights

Open Access
Bartuska, Katherine
Area of Honors:
International Politics
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Joseph Wright, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • economic sanctions
  • human rights
  • international politics
How do economic sanctions affect respect for human rights? While sanctions have the ability to coerce the regime to implement change, they also have the potential for increased human rights violations as a result of resource deprivation. Therefore, I hypothesize that economic sanctions decrease the government's respect for human rights. Further, sanctions often hurt citizens and elites in targeted countries. When this occurs, citizens may, in response to sanctions, engage in anti-regime protest while elites often threaten the leader with a coup attempt. In attempts to retain power, sanction-targeted government are therefore likely to respond to these domestic challenges by further increasing repression. Thus, I posit that an observed relationship between sanctions and increased government repression can be explained, in part, by the targeted governments’ response to domestic challenges, namely anti-regime protest and coup attempts. I test this argument by analyzing how sanction imposition influences government repression in a global sample of non-democracies from 1970-2005. This study utilizes fixed effects regressions to test the observed relationship between sanctions and repression, while accounting for threatened sanction. I then use a mediation analysis to determine whether the sanction effect is mediated through coups and anti-government political protest. I find support for my findings, as the models illustrate that economic sanctions decrease government’s respect for human rights. I also find support that protest is a partial mediator, but coups are not.