Though centralized enforcement of global human rights standards is weak, powerful states can act unilaterally to punish rights violations. Focusing on the United States, which is the most frequent ‘sender’ of sanctions for human rights, we theorize how the incentives for sanctions differ across the legislative and executive branches of government, as well as how the legal foundation for sanctions vary across issue area. Employing a new fine-grained dataset of US economic coercion, we examine the conditions under which and the consistency with which the United States employs sanctions for human rights. We show that certain human rights issues, characterized by interbranch agreement and domestic policy externalities, give rise to systems of ‘dedicated’ enforcement where violations are systematically monitored and punishment is more likely. In other more politically-contentious areas, US human rights enforcement is more ad hoc, but nevertheless responds at the margins to international legal commitments: when countries ratify certain certain global human rights treaties, they are more likely to be targeted by US sanctions in the event of rights violations.