Precision-guided or blunt? The effects of US economic sanctions on human rights

  • Jerg Gutmann
  • Matthias NeuenkirchEmail author
  • Florian Neumeier


This study analyzes the consequences of economic sanctions for the target country’s human rights situation. We offer a political economy explanation for different types of human rights infringements or improvements in reaction to economic shocks caused by sanctions. Based on that explanation, we derive hypotheses linking sanctions to four types of human rights: economic rights, political and civil rights, basic human rights, and emancipatory rights. We use endogenous treatment regression models to test those hypotheses by estimating the causal average treatment effect of US economic sanctions on each type of human rights within a uniform empirical framework. Unlike previous studies, we find no support for adverse effects of sanctions on economic rights or basic human rights, once the endogenous selection of sanctioned countries is modelled. With respect to women’s rights, our findings even indicate a positive effect of sanctions that is associated with improvements in women’s economic rights. Only our results for political rights and civil liberties suggest significant deterioration under economic sanctions. We conclude that it is important to account for the potential endogeneity of economic sanctions and to distinguish different dimensions of human rights, as the effects of economic sanctions along those dimensions may vary considerably.


Democratization Discrimination Economic sanctions Endogenous treatment model Human rights Repression 

JEL Classification

F51 F52 F53 K10 K11 P14 P16 P26 



We thank Sabine Carey, Sebastian Garmann, Paul Schaudt, William Shughart II (the Editor), Christian von Soest, Akiva Weiss, Alexander Wulf, participants of the 2016 EMLE Midterm Meeting, the 2016 European Public Choice Society Conference, the 2016 Silvaplana Workshop in Political Economy, the 2016 European Association of Law and Economics Annual Meeting, the 2017 Political Economy of Democracy and Dictatorship Conference in Münster, and the GIGA Seminar in Socio-Economics, as well as two anonymous referees for helpful comments. The usual disclaimer applies.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 49 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.CESifoMunichGermany
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of TrierTrierGermany
  4. 4.ifo MunichMunichGermany
  5. 5.LMU MunichMunichGermany

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