Human Rights Prosecutions and Autocratic Survival

Abel Escribà-Folch, Joseph Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-373
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 11 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Law


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