UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Identifying the conditions for international atrocity crimes trials for former African heads of state Ryan, Kennedy Laura


The 2010s marked a normative crisis between African state cooperation and international criminal law. Tensions between many African Union (AU) leaders and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have undermined the path forward for trying former African Presidents accused of atrocity crimes. By asking why former African heads of state are put on trial for atrocity crimes, I attempt to empirically ascertain the political conditions for a trial and contextualize the answer within the normative crisis. Using qualitative methods such as process tracing, I find that incoming African democratic regimes support trials based on a domestic political calculation of the costs and benefits of cooperating with international justice institutions. I argue that when viable new regimes can benefit strategically by removing the ex-leader as a political adversary and can simultaneously garner international praise and support for a trial, they instrumentalize international justice to further their political goals. While other theories explain the existence of trials through the internalization of anti-impunity and human rights norms, I argue that a rational calculus best explains the outcome of an international trial, whether at the ICC or in a hybrid forum. Finally, I argue that incoming governments can make these calculations in the state where the ex-leader committed past abuses or in a third-party state where he resides in exile.

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