“A Hand upon the Throat of the Nation”: Economic Sanctions and State Repression, 1976–2001


  • Author’s note :A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Atlanta, GA, January 5–7. I am grateful to Ryan Bakker, Mark Crescenzi, Stephen Gent, Layna Mosley, and Marco Steenbergen for their assistance in this project. I would also like to thank Mark Gibney, Edward Weisband, and the several anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. Replication data and command files are available via the Dataverse Network Project (http://dvn.iq.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/isq) and the ISA data archive page (http://www.isanet.org/data_archive/).


While intended as a nonviolent foreign policy alternative to military intervention, sanctions have often worsened humanitarian and human rights conditions in the target country. This article examines the relationship between economic sanctions and state-sponsored repression of human rights. Drawing on both the public choice and institutional constraints literature, I argue that the imposition of economic sanctions negatively impacts human rights conditions in the target state by encouraging incumbents to increase repression. Specifically, sanctions threaten the stability of target incumbents, leading them to augment their level of repression in an effort to stabilize the regime, protect core supporters, minimize the threat posed by potential challengers, and suppress popular dissent. The empirical results support this theory. These findings provide further evidence that sanctions impose political, social, and physical hardship on civilian populations. They also underscore a need for improvements in current strategies and mechanisms by which states pursue foreign-policy goals and the international community enforces international law and stability.