Economic Sanctions and Human Rights: Quantifying Proportionality
32 Pages Posted: 22 May 2018 Last revised: 11 Apr 2022
Date Written: May 9, 2018
The content of the proportionality principle applicable to sanctions varies across areas of substantive law, yet with the benchmarks of necessity and proportionality stricto sensu looming prominently. Both rest on empirical premises – with the necessity test involving a prognostic effectiveness assessment and the proportionality test assessing the actual effects the sanction exerts on the target and collaterally. This study examines the empirical premises that determine the proportionality judgment and, more generally, inquires into the potential and limitations of quantitative assessments in international law. To that end, we employ econometric techniques to explore the proportionality of US sanction episodes between 1976 and 2012. Our results cast doubt on the effectiveness of sanctions aiming at human rights improvements; they refine the (un)proportionality judgment of sanctions by distinguishing the variable impact on specific human rights; and they inform the debate on unilateral versus multilateral as well as targeted sanctions. More generally, the article adds to our understanding of the potential contribution of statistical evidence to inform the application of proportionality in the field of international law and outlines limitations associated with importing quantitative standards into the proportionality assessment.
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