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Why do states commit to international criminal justice? A case study of Sub-Saharan African commitment to the International Criminal Court

Kevin Coffey
University College Dublin
Kevin Coffey
University College Dublin
Open Panel

Abstract

The International Criminal Court has thus far initiated investigations exclusively in Sub-Saharan Africa. Given that state officials from this region are uniquely vulnerable to prosecution, it is highly puzzling that African states were in the vanguard of setting up this institution. It is for this reason the paper seeks to explore the reasons why a majority of Sub-Saharan African states committed to the court and more broadly, explain how moral values under certain conditions can influence a states foreign policy, even those states which have tended to persistently violate these values or norms. Applying a social constructivist approach, I theorize that these governments were persuaded to support the norm of ending impunity by a nexus of individuals from ‘middling’ and ‘small’ liberal democratic states, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. These norm entrepreneurs achieved such a feat through two acts. Prior to and during the Rome Conference, they strategically altered the institutional settings to facilitate persuasion and open discourse rather than recourse to bargaining and power politics. Secondly, advocates of the court effectively invoked taken-for-granted norms in their arguments during the negotiations. Such a tactic narrowed the parameters of legitimate debate from which actors could draw on. Both of these strategies are posited to have socialized African states to the concept of a strong, independent ICC and persuaded them to commit to the ICC. The paper will conclude by analyzing post-ratification behaviour and comment on whether actors were sufficiently persuaded to comply with the ICC in the subsequent years to exposure to this normative environment.