Congress, the President, and U.S. Human Rights Sanctions Human Rights Standards
57 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2021 Last revised: 14 Feb 2022
Date Written: February 22, 2021
Though centralized enforcement of global human rights standards is weak, powerful states can act unilaterally to punish rights violations. We focus on the role of the United States, deriving insights about how the incentives and constraints for human rights (HR) sanctions vary across the legislative and executive branches. Employing a new fine-grained dataset of U.S. economic coercion based on automated analysis of government documents, we marshal descriptive evidence, analysis of text, and multivariate models to explore patterns of HR sanctioning by Congress and the President. We find that although both branches are sensitive to strategic foreign policy interests, overall, Congress is more systematic in its approach toward human rights, orienting its measures around principles and norms, rather than particular countries. We further find that Congress makes frequent reference to global human rights treaties in its sanction-related legislation, and that its enforcement patterns are shaped by target countries' treaty commitments.
Keywords: human rights, American foreign policy, ICCPR, treaties, sanctions
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