The ICC and International Criminal Law

Has the International Criminal Court (ICC) lived up to expectations?  Or its potential?  When does the threat of enforcing international criminal law lead to unintended political and human rights consequences? I seek to answer these questions through a series of solo- and co-authored articles and works in progress about the ICC and international criminal law.

Published Research

International Criminal Accountability and the Domestic Politics of Resistance: Case Studies from Kenya and Lebanon

Abstract: Contemporary international criminal law suggests that head of state immunity does not extend to atrocity crimes, but the executive’s office continues to be the safest place for suspected perpetrators. Moreover, indicted suspects can use the threat of international accountability to win democratically contested elections. This article asks how suspects and their surrogates translate an indictment from an international criminal tribunal into an electoral victory and suggests that the path between an indictment and electoral victory unfolds in one of two ways: (1) the consolidation of existing coalitions around the indicted suspects and their allies; or (2) the creation of new coalitions that span existing cleavages. The article evaluates these assumptions through two cases: Lebanon and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Kenya and the International Criminal Court. These two decidedly different cases exemplify the ways in which coalitional politics shield suspects international accountability and reward them with high office.

Suggested Citation: Courtney Hillebrecht. 2020. “International Criminal Accountability and the Domestic Politics of Resistance: Case Studies from Kenya and Lebanon. Law and Society Review, Vol. 54 (2): 453-486.

Who Pursues the Perpetrators?: State Cooperation with the ICC

Abstract: Despite the International Criminal Court’s increased prominence in international politics, there remains marked variation in states’ cooperation with the ICC. This paper asks, why do states cooperate with the ICC following an indictment, arrest warrant or request for information and how do these patterns of cooperation affect the Court’s ability to constrain state behavior? Using comparative case studies of Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, we suggest that states’ cooperation with the ICC is a function of domestic political calculations, tempered by states’ international partners and ambitions and the ICC’s own learning process.

Suggested Citation: Courtney Hillebrecht and Scott Straus. 2017. “Who Prosecutes the Perpetrators?  State Cooperation with ICC Indictments.” Human Rights Quarterly, 39 (1): 162-188.

We also published an op-ed for The Monkey Cage on cooperation with the ICC, which you can read here.

The Deterrent Effects of the International Criminal Court: Evidence from Libya

Abstract: The International Criminal Court (ICC) was designed to try the worst war criminals for crimes against humanity, genocide and other instances of mass human suffering.   By providing a permanent, international mechanism to hold perpetrators of mass human rights abuse accountable, the ICC is also meant to be a deterrent—to prevent potential genocidaires from committing systematic human rights abuses in the first place. But what if the effect is actually quite the opposite? While advocates of international justice have made conjectures about the effect of the ICC on stopping human rights abuses, the existing scholarship does not empirically test assumptions about the relationship between international criminal justice and violence. This article outlines the causal mechanisms by which the ICC could affect on-going violence and tests these assumptions using event count models of the relationship between the ICC and the level of violence against civilians in Libya during the 2011 crisis. These analyses suggest that the ICC’s involvement in conflict does have a dampening effect on the level of mass atrocities committed. The results also call for a broad and sustained research agenda on the effect of international accountability efforts on on-going violence.

Suggested Citation: Courtney Hillebrecht. 2016. “Trying the Perpetrators and Fueling the War:  The (Perverse) Effects of the International Criminal Court?” International Interactions,42 (4): 616-643.

Research in Progress

My Enemy’s Enemy: Unlikely Supporters of the International Criminal Court

Abstract: The international justice regime, including the ICC, has been subjected to intense criticism and backlash over the past two decades.  As international human rights and criminal courts have become increasingly interwoven into the fabric of both global and domestic politics, opponents to the courts have engaged in systematic campaigns to undermine the authority of these justice institutions.  Despite the real and pressing problems this backlash against the international justice regime presents, backlash is not omnipresent. Instead, backlash is intermixed with instances of support, sometimes from even the least likely quarters.  This paper examines those states who, according to received wisdom, “should” either rebuff or be agnostic about the ICC, but who instead offer rhetorical, financial, and administrative support.  While there are, of course, those so-called “sincere ratifiers,” meaning states that have ratified the Rome Statute and support the ICC because of an abiding normative commitment to international accountability, there are plentiful examples of states who pledge support to the ICC for strategic, rather than normative goals.[2]  In this paper, I suggest that states can offer rhetorical, financial and administrative support to the ICC in order to undermine regional or international opponents.  To examine this argument, this paper considers three examples: Botswana, Nigeria, and Japan.  These three examples illustrate how states leverage their support for the ICC to manage regional and international political conflict. 

Suggested Citation: Courtney Hillebrecht, “My Enemy’s Enemy: Unlikely Supporters of the International Criminal Court.” Working Paper. 2021.

Beyond the Courtroom: Assessing the ICC’s Impact on State-Sponsored Violence against Civilians

Abstract: While the International Criminal Court (ICC) is, first and foremost, a court, it is also a quasi-judicial body and a large international bureaucracy.  The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor makes statements about instances of mass atrocity, conducts site visits, issues cooperation requests, and puts situations under preliminary examinations. The Court’s quasi-judicial and political roles have grown to occupy a large portion of the ICC’s work and drawn increased attention—and ire—from states.  In this paper, we ask:  how does the ICC’s quasi-judicial and political work affect state-sponsored violence?  While the existing literature, both about the ICC in particular and (international) judicial punishment in general sets out clear expectations about how the threat of accountability will affect state behavior, the ICC’s quasi-judicial and political work alters those theoretical expectations.  As such, this paper presents a broad theory of the impact of the ICC’s work beyond the courtroom, paying particular attention to state-sponsored violence against civilians.  The paper then evaluates this theoretical framework through a set of statistical analyzes that includes states currently under investigation, states under preliminary examination, and states that have drawn the attention of the ICC short of—or outside of—legal proceedings. 

Suggested Citation: Courtney Hillebrecht and Hannah Read, “Beyond the Courtroom: Assessing the ICC’s Impact on State-Sponsored Violence against Civilians.” Working Paper. 2021.