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Explaining disappearances as a tool of political terror

Aguilar, P. & Kovras, I. ORCID: 0000-0003-2787-2389 (2018). Explaining disappearances as a tool of political terror. International Political Science Review, doi: 10.1177/0192512118764410


Despite the widespread use of disappearances as a central tool of terror in recent decades, little is known about the emergence of the phenomenon or its underlying rationale. We argue that growing international accountability norms, coupled with the improved quality of reporting human rights abuses, paradoxically reshaped the repressive strategies of certain regimes and pushed them to deploy more clandestine and extrajudicial forms of repression, predominantly disappearances. We also explore the timing of disappearances: when a state decides to deploy a particular instrument of terror can greatly benefit our understanding of why it was used. We show that repressive regimes tend to use disappearances in the first period after a coup, taking advantage of the general confusion and opacity to secure strategic benefits and protect the regime from external scrutiny and future accountability. Our findings contribute to the growing literature on human rights and political repression by highlighting an ‘unintended consequence’ of international accountability norms: repressive regimes turn to clandestine crimes.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Aguilar, P and Kovras, I, Explaining disappearances as a tool of political terror, International Political Science Review pp. xx-xx. Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.
Publisher Keywords: Enforced disappearances, human rights, international accountability norms, missing persons, state repression, unintended consequences.
Subjects: J Political Science
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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