Strategizing Justice for Human Rights Abuses in Internal Conflicts

Ms. Sophie Rosenberg

In light of anxiety surrounding the future of international human rights, and international criminal justice more specifically, this paper examines the flip-side of this unease: the puzzling phenomenon of governments’ proactive engagement with the anti-impunity norm during internal conflict. This is evident when governments launch anti-impunity measures despite the inevitable risks of pursuing criminal accountability for grave crimes, including by self-referring to the International Criminal Court and launching domestic investigations and prosecutions. This paper draws upon qualitative case study methods, including approximately 80 semi-structured elite interviews with key political, diplomatic, and judicial players in two understudied cases: Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. It contributes to scholarly study of norm implementation by bringing power and elite interests more fully into the picture. This paper asks: how do elite national actors use, or deploy, the anti-impunity norm to shape political dynamics in the context of armed conflict, particularly in times when the government’s legitimacy is in jeopardy? The concept of ‘norm exploitation,’ as coined here, offers a novel way to analyse why and how state actors engage with norms. This paper shows how the anti-impunity norm can serve as a bargaining resource for various elite actors during processes of conflict resolution to further the government’s short-term political objectives in its legitimation strategy, by exploiting the norm’s inherent enforcement features and functions. This ‘norm-as-resource’ approach explains how selective compliance with the anti-impunity norm helped generate ‘negative’ peace, but not through the constraining powers of law. Overall, drawing on novel empirical material from key cases that have barely been studied in this field, this paper furthers scholarly understanding of norms and the peace vs. justice debate.