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Human Rights Prosecutions and Autocratic Survival

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2015

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Abstract

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.

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Research Article
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Copyright © The IO Foundation 2015 

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