Stopping State Repression: An Examination of Spells, 1976-2004

54 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2014

See all articles by Christian Davenport

Christian Davenport

Political Science/Center for Political Studies

Benjamin Appel

Michigan State University

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Date Written: August 22, 2014


While the call to “Never Again” allow political authorities to commit gross human rights abuses against those within their territorial jurisdiction is frequently heralded as one of the most important tasks left for humankind (following World War II), essentially little effort has been made to rigorously examine how to stop state repression once it is underway – a crucial component of the humanitarian initiative. Within this paper, we put forward a new theoretical framework that conceptualizes state repression as a type of political institution with important lock-in effects. Based on this, we argue that repressive action is unlikely to terminate unless the decision-makers and implementers of repression were significantly impacted. Specifically, we posit that this is much more likely to be related to domestic factors (i.e. democratization) than international ones (economic sanctions, naming/shaming, military interventions, etc.). In a series of empirical analyses on a new database of 220 high-repression spells for the period 1976-2004, we conduct the first examination of the topic. In line with our argument, results disclose that democratization is associated with spell-termination, while we find little impact for international factors. International “sticks” have no systematic influence on spell termination, but international “carrots” in the form of preferential trade agreements can contribute to shorter spells, providing some hope for international efforts. We conclude with identifying several important implications for policymakers, activists, advocates and researchers interested in ending state repression.

Keywords: repression, humanitarianism, political violence, genocide, conflict termination, economic sanctions, military intervention, international law, naming and shaming, human rights violation, genocide, atrocities, mass killing, prevention, democratization, democracy, preferential trade agreements

Suggested Citation

Davenport, Christian and Appel, Benjamin, Stopping State Repression: An Examination of Spells, 1976-2004 (August 22, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Christian Davenport (Contact Author)

Political Science/Center for Political Studies ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States


Benjamin Appel

Michigan State University ( email )

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