This Essay seeks to contribute to existing scholarship on transnational repression by looking at the practice through the lens of sovereignty. Scholars of transnational repression have primarily focused on understanding the practice of transnational repression, developing databases that map the frequency of acts of transnational repression and its perpetrators, describing state methods and tactics, and understanding its impact on targeted individuals. Few have engaged in a discussion of how international law intersects with transnational repression or how sovereignty is challenged by this practice. More broadly, this Essay hopes to contribute to a broader understanding of the norms and rules that apply to the relationship between a country of origin and the “diaspora,” which “has largely occurred in an ethical vacuum.” The risk is that without “an agreed set of principles about what constitutes reasonable diaspora engagement, governments in many parts of the world have begun to treat interference with ‘their’ citizens abroad as part of normal politics.”
In light of this normative and scholarly gap—inspired by “Sovereignty Identity Crisis: State, Self, and Collective in a Digital Age,” a symposium hosted by Temple Law’s Institute for Law, Innovation & Technology (iLIT) and Temple Law Review—we consider transnational repression through the lens of two articulations of sovereignty: state sovereignty and individual sovereignty. Under this first view of sovereignty, we focus primarily on its territorial aspects. The state’s exclusive competence and control over its territory are central to contemporary definitions of sovereignty and, as we lay out, is increasingly challenged by transnational repression, suggesting that we may need to rethink the modern boundaries of sovereignty. Then, in examining individual sovereignty, we review the broader context for this term and consider how transnational repression undermines individual rights and freedoms, particularly through its digital dimensions.