Hostname: page-component-7d8f8d645b-xs5cw Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-30T00:34:26.969Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Human Rights Prosecutions and Autocratic Survival

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2015

Get access


Do human rights prosecutions deter dictatorships from relinquishing power? Advances in the study of human rights show that prosecutions reduce repression in transition countries. However, prosecuting officials for past crimes may jeopardize the prospects of regime change in countries that have not transitioned, namely dictatorships. The creation of the International Criminal Court has further revitalized this debate. This article assesses how human rights prosecutions influence autocratic regime change in neighboring dictatorships. We argue that when dictators and their elite supporters can preserve their interests after a regime transition, human rights prosecutions are less likely to deter them from leaving power. Using personalist dictatorship as a proxy for weak institutional guarantees of posttransition power, the evidence indicates that these regimes are less likely to democratize when their neighbors prosecute human rights abusers. In other dictatorships, however, neighbor prosecutions do not deter regimes from democratizing.

Research Article
Copyright © The IO Foundation 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Acemoglu, Daron, and Robinson, James A.. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Barany, Zoltan. 2011. Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Role of the Military. Journal of Democracy 22 (4):2435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bellin, Eva. 2004. The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Exceptionalism in Comparative Perspective. Comparative Politics 36 (2):139–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bellin, Eva. 2012. Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lesson from the Arab Spring. Comparative Politics 44 (2):127–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boix, Carles. 2003. Democracy and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boix, Carles, and Svolik, Milan. 2013. The Foundations of Limited Authoritarian Government: Institutions, Commitment, and Power-Sharing in Dictatorships. Journal of Politics 75 (2):300–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bratton, Michael, and van de Walle, Nicolas. 1994 Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa. World Politics 46 (4):453896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brinks, Daniel, and Coppedge, Michael. 2006. Diffusion Is No Illusion: Neighbor Emulation in the Third Wave of Democracy. Comparative Political Studies 39 (4):463–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carter, David, and Signorino, Curt. 2010. Back to the Future: Modeling Time Dependence in Binary Data. Political Analysis 18 (3):271–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chehabi, Houchang E., and Linz, Juan J.. 1998. Sultanistic Regimes. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Cheibub, José A., Gandhi, Jennifer, and Vreeland, James R.. 2010. Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited. Public Choice 143 (1–2):67101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cingranelli, David L. 2010. The Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset. Available at <>. Accessed 25 February 2011..+Accessed+25+February+2011.>Google Scholar
David, Roman. 2003. Lustration Laws in Action: The Motives and Evaluation of Lustration Policy in the Czech Republic and Poland (1989–2001). Law and Social Inquiry 28 (2):387439.Google Scholar
Debs, Alexandre, and Goemans, Hein E.. 2010. Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders, and War. American Political Science Review 104 (3):430–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Waal, Alex, and Stanton, Gregory H.. 2009. Should President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan Be Charged and Arrested by the International Criminal Court? An Exchange of Views. Genocide Studies and Prevention 4 (3):329–53.Google Scholar
Dix, Robert H. 1982. The Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes. Western Political Quarterly 35 (4):554–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Escribà-Folch, Abel. 2013. Accountable for What? Regime Types, Performance, and the Fate of Outgoing Dictators, 1946–2004. Democratization 20 (1):160–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frantz, Erica, and Ezrow, Natasha M.. 2011. The Politics of Dictatorship: Institutions and Outcomes in Authoritarian Regimes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geddes, Barbara. 1999. What Do We Know About Democratization After Twenty Years? Annual Review of Political Science 2:115–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geddes, Barbara, Wright, Joseph, and Frantz, Erica. 2014. Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set. Perspectives on Politics 12 (2):313–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibney, Mark, Cornett, Linda, Wood, Reed, and Haschke, Peter. 2011. Political Terror Scale 1976–2012. Available at <>. Accessed 25 February 2011..+Accessed+25+February+2011.>Google Scholar
Gilligan, Michael J. 2006. Is Enforcement Necessary for Effectiveness? A Model of the International Crime Regime. International Organization 60 (4):935967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom. 2009. The Clash of Commitments at the International Criminal Court. Chicago Journal of International Law 9:499514.Google Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Ward, Michael D.. 2006. Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization. International Organization 6 (4):911–33.Google Scholar
Gleditsch, Nils P., Wallensteen, Peter, Eriksson, Mikael, Sollenberg, Margareta, and Strand, Havard. 2002. Armed Conflict 1946–2001: A New Dataset. Journal of Peace Research 39 (5):615–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goemans, Hein E., Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Chiozza, Giacomo. 2009. Introducing Archigos: A Dataset of Political Leaders. Journal of Peace Research 46 (2):269–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldsmith, Jack. 2003. The Self-Defeating International Criminal Court. University of Chicago Law Review 70 (1):89104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldsmith, Jack, and Krasner, Stephen D.. 2003. The Limits of Idealism. Daedalus 132 (1):4763.Google Scholar
Greene, Kenneth F. 2010. The Political Economy of Authoritarian Single-Party Dominance. Comparative Political Studies 43 (9):127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haas, Peter M. 1992. Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination. International Organization 46 (1):135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., and Ron, James. 2009. Seeing Double: Human Rights Impact Through Qualitative and Quantitative Eyes. World Politics 61 (2):360401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., and Ron, James. 2013. The Latin Bias: Regions, the Anglo-American Media, and Human Rights. International Studies Quarterly 57 (3):474–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haggard, Stephen, and Kaufman, Robert R.. 1995. Political Economy of Democratic Transitions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Hawkins, Darren G. 2002. International Human Rights and Authoritarian Rule in Chile. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
Hollyer, James R., and Rosendorff, B. Peter. 2011. Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Sign the Convention Against Torture? Signaling, Domestic Politics and Non-Compliance. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 6 (3–4):275327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2010. ICC: Bashir Warrant Is Warning to Abusive Leaders. 3 February. Available at <>. Accessed 25 February 2011..+Accessed+25+February+2011.>Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2012. Senegal: Proceedings Against Hissène Habré Draw Near. 19 December. Available at <>. Accessed 20 December 2012..+Accessed+20+December+2012.>Google Scholar
Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. How Countries Democratize. Political Science Quarterly 106 (4):579616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ishiyama, John T. 1995. Communist Parties in Transition: Structures, Leaders, and Processes of Democratization in Eastern Europe. Comparative Politics 27 (2):147–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Katz, Ethan. 2001. Bias in Conditional and Unconditional Fixed Effects Logit Estimation. Political Analysis 9 (4):379–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keck, Margaret E., and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Kim, Hun Joon. 2012. Structural Determinants of Human Rights Prosecutions After Democratic Transition. Journal of Peace Research 49 (2):305–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kim, Hun Joon, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 2010. Explaining the Deterrence Effect of Human Rights Prosecutions for Transitional Countries. International Studies Quarterly 54 (4):939–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
La Porta, Rafael, Lopez-de-Silanes, Florencio, Shleifer, Andrei, and Vishny, Robert. 1999. The Quality of Government. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 15 (1):222–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeds, Brett Ashley, Mattes, Michaela, and Vogel, Jeremy S.. 2009. Interests, Institutions, and the Reliability of International Commitments. American Journal of Political Science 53 (2):461–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Linz, Juan J., and Stepan, Alfred C.. 1996. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Linzer, Drew A., and Staton, Jeffrey K.. 2011. A Measurement Model for Synthesizing Multiple Comparative Indicators: The Case of Judicial Independence. Paper Presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 1–4, Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
Lust-Okar, Ellen. 2005. Structuring Conflict in the Arab World. Incumbents, Opponents, and Institutions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lutz, Ellen L., and Sikkink, Kathryn. 2001. The Justice Cascade: The Evolution and Impact of Foreign Human Rights Trials in Latin America. Chicago Journal of International Law 2 (1):134.Google Scholar
Maddison, Angus. 2010. World Population, GDP and Per Capita GDP, 1–2008 AD. Available at <>. Accessed 25 February 2011..+Accessed+25+February+2011.>Google Scholar
Magaloni, Beatriz. 2006. Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and Its Demise in Mexico. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule. Comparative Political Studies 41 (4–5):715–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mendez, Juan E. 1997. Accountability for Past Abuses. Human Rights Quarterly 19 (2):255–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meseguer, Covadonga. 2009. Learning, Policy Making and Market Reforms. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morrison, Kevin M. 2009. Oil, Nontax Revenue, and the Redistributional Foundations of Regime Stability. International Organization 63 (1):107–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nalepa, Monika. 2010. Skeletons in the Closet: Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nalepa, Monika, and Powell, Emilia J.. 2011. To Stay or to Go: Decision Making on the Peaceful Surrender of Control After the International Criminal Court. Unpublished manuscript, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN.Google Scholar
Nobles, Melissa. 2010. The Prosecution of Human Rights Violations. Annual Review of Political Science 13 (1):165–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nordlinger, Eric A. 1977. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
O'Donnell, Guillermo A., and Schmitter, Philippe C.. 1986. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Olsen, Tricia D., Payne, Leigh A., and Reiter, Andrew G.. 2010. The Justice Balance: When Transitional Justice Improves Human Rights and Democracy. Human Rights Quarterly 32 (4):9801007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Osiel, Mark J. 2000. Why Prosecute? Critics of Punishment for Mass Atrocity. Human Rights Quarterly 22 (1):118–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pevehouse, Jon C. 2002. Democracy from the Outside-In? International Organizations and Democratization. International Organization 56 (3):515–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Przeworski, Adam. 1991. Democracy and the Market. Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, Jose A., and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quinlivan, James T. 1999. Coup-Proofing: Its Practice and Consequences in the Middle East. International Security 24 (2):131–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ritter, Emily H., and Wolford, Scott. 2012. Bargaining and the Effectiveness of International Criminal Regimes. Journal of Theoretical Politics 24 (2):149–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roht-Arriaza, Naomi. 2005. The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sikkink, Kathryn. 2011. The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Sikkink, Kathryn, and Walling, Carrie. 2007. The Impact of Human Rights Trials in Latin America. Journal of Peace Research 44 (4):427–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Skaar, Elin. 1999. Truth Commissions, Trials—or Nothing? Policy Options in Democratic Transitions. Third World Quarterly 20 (6):1109–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Benjamin B. 2005. Life of the Party: The Origins of Regime Breakdown and Persistence Under Single-Party Rule. World Politics 57 (3):421–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Snyder, Jack L., and Vinjamuri, Leslie. 2003. Trials and Errors: Principle and Pragmatism in Strategies of International Justice. International Security 28 (3):544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Snyder, Richard. 1992. Explaining Transitions from Neopatrimonial Dictatorships. Comparative Politics 24 (4):379–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stepan, Alfred C. 1971. The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Stephan, Maria J., and Chenoweth, Erica. 2008. Why Civil Resistance Works. The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. International Security 33 (1):744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sutter, Daniel. 1995. Settling Old Scores: Potholes Along the Transition from Authoritarian Rule. Journal of Conflict Resolution 39 (1):110–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sutter, Daniel. 2006. The Deterrent Effects of the International Criminal Court. Conferences on New Political Economy 23 (1):924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Svolik, Milan W. 2011. Moral Hazard in Authoritarian Repression and the Fate of Dictators. Political Economist 13 (2):79.Google Scholar
Teorell, Jan. 2010. Determinants of Democratization: Explaining Regime Change in the World, 1972–2006. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thompson, William R. 1975. Regime Vulnerability and the Military Coup. Comparative Politics 7 (4):459–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weeks, Jessica L. 2008. Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve. International Organization 62 (1):3564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weeks, Jessica L. 2012. Strongmen and Straw Men: Authoritarian Regimes and the Initiation of International Conflict. American Political Science Review 106 (2):326–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weyland, Kurt G. 2005. Theories of Policy Diffusion: Lessons from Latin American Pension Reform. World Politics 57 (2):262–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wooldridge, Jeffrey M. 2002. Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Wright, Joseph. 2008. Do Authoritarian Institutions Constrain? How Legislatures Impact Economic Growth and Investment. American Journal of Political Science 52 (2):322–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wright, Joseph, and Escribà-Folch, Abel. 2012. Authoritarian Institutions and Regime Survival: Transitions to Democracy and Subsequent Authoritarian Regimes. British Journal of Political Science 42 (2):283309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Escribà-Folch and Wright supplementary material

Escribà-Folch and Wright supplementary material 1

Download Escribà-Folch and Wright supplementary material(File)
File 12 MB