Political leaders not only assess the costs and benefits of repression but also act strategically in their use of particular repression types. Choices amongst repression types depend partly upon leaders being held responsible for their particular actions. The codification of the international human rights regime indicated by broad ratification of the core International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights increases the likelihood of criminal responsibility, and political leaders who repress but want to avoid accountability for their actions respond strategically. These governments refrain from extrajudicial killing, which is easier to link to the government, relying instead on forced disappearances, a violation that is more difficult to tie to the incumbent regime. Using a sample of 194 countries from 1981 to 2009, we find that decreases in the use of extrajudicial killing in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights member states are associated with increases in the use of forced disappearance. This indicates a substitution effect as governments attempt to maintain the benefits of repression while avoiding the costs of accountability. Our findings are robust to changes in measurement, sample size, and model specification.
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