International Interactions is a peer-reviewed journal with direct relevance to a wide and interdisciplinary audience. Readers include political scientists, economists, historians, mathematicians, statisticians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social science researchers with an interest in international relations, as well as informed professionals in business and government.
This newly launched blog initiative aims to synthesize scholarly findings for a practitioner audience. Each blog post describes the policy takeaways of a recent II article, in the authors' own words, and is accompanied by a period of free access to the original published article. This is an exciting new opportunity to share the important scholarly work of the journal with engaged policymakers who can apply this research to current issues and challenges.
Beware of Victor’s Justice
Post-conflict trials: A means of reconciliation or a partisan opportunity?
Armed conflicts are inextricably linked with substantial injustices. While no policy can revert such harms, several instruments of transitional justice have been developed to alleviate their consequences. These instruments include—most notably—post-conflict trials that are frequently deemed indispensable to restore the dignity of victims. Particularly since the end of the Cold War, there has been an unprecedented surge of prosecutions after armed conflicts, a phenomenon described as the justice cascade. Pushed by the human rights community, the creation of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations is nowadays regarded as a key objective of post-conflict reconstruction. However, do post-conflict trials deliver what they promise?
To answer this question, I collected expert ratings on all major post-conflict trials implemented between 1946 and 2006 as recorded by the Post-Conflict Justice Dataset. Country experts—identified by publications on the respective post-conflict contexts—rated several items measuring the fairness of these post-conflict trials. The results demonstrate that the majority of the post-conflict trials (72%) were partisan, with substantial biases against the political opposition. Biased post-conflict trials were spread around the globe while only one post-conflict trial, namely the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was deemed as largely unbiased (see Figure 1). Beyond the numerical ratings, several experts provided detailed descriptions about the post-conflict trials under investigation. They stated, for instance, that “there was no attempt at reconciliation” (Prof. Christina Cliff on Burundi 1965), that “supporters of the regime were generally not indicted” (Prof. Jean-Phillipe Belleau on Haiti 1991), that “the process focused only on a very narrow group of perpetrators” (Prof. Randall Fegley on Equatorial Guinea 1979), that “confessions [were] enforced by torture” (Prof. Patrick Peebles on Sri Lanka 1971), or that there was a “one-sided show trial” (Prof. Sheila Carapico on North Yemen 1986).
In light of these findings, it becomes clear that post-conflict trials are not necessarily an instrument to create accountability for perpetrators of violence. Instead, they are frequently manipulated by post-conflict governments that seek to consolidate their position in power. Such political biases tend to result in excessive punishments of opposition forces while government allies are systematically pardoned. Hence, there is no inherent value in post-conflict prosecutions when judicial independence is under threat. How can we identify post-conflict contexts where political manipulations are most likely to occur? And which types of post-conflict trials are most likely to be biased?
Figure 1: Post-conflict trials (1946-2006)
By systematically studying predictors of biased post-conflict trials, I find that all partisan trials in the studied time period have been domestically implemented. None of them has been implemented by external actors in an international tribunal. In contrast, 80% of the internationally implemented post-conflict criminal prosecutions have been classified as impartial. Some scholars have criticized such international criminal prosecutions for their lack of legitimacy among domestic populations; however, given that domestic prosecutions are particularly prone to biases, it could be replied that international tribunals are essential to provide impartial proceedings.
These findings are particularly prescient in the wake of decisive, one-sided battlefield outcomes—81% of the partisan post-conflict trials were implemented after victories, while less than 10% were implemented after bargained solutions. In a multivariate model including all global post-conflict environments between 1946 and 2006, victorious battle-outcomes are a significant predictor for the implementation of partisan post-conflict trials. Hence, criminal justice after victories on the battlefield tends to take the shape of one-sided victor’s justice.
Beyond that, the majority of partisan post-conflict trials were implemented after internal conflicts and they were more likely after territorial conflicts. Partisan post-conflict trials were also more frequently combined with amnesties than impartial proceedings. Impartial post-conflict trials, in contrast, were significantly more likely in rich countries with high levels of GDP per capita. This suggests that certain economic capacities are essential to ensure unbiased proceedings. Further, the likelihood of impartial post-conflict trials is higher after conflicts with greater numbers of battle deaths. This could imply that accountability-seeking is more likely if conflicts were particularly destructive.
What can be learned from these findings? While important ethical and legal rationales call for extensive prosecutions after armed conflicts, it is a precondition to consider whether judicial independence is under threat. If prosecutions are likely to be politically biased, they neither deliver accountability nor do they contribute to reconciliation. Just as elections do not necessarily guarantee democracy, post-conflict trials are no guarantee of justice. Therefore, this study suggests that the transitional justice community should pay close attention to potential indicators for biased proceedings, such as victories of one conflict party or a lack of economic resources. In such contexts, international tribunals implemented by impartial actors may be the preferred option to ensure perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable.
Reconsidering Humanitarian Military Intervention
Dr. Thorsten Gromes is Project Director and Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, Germany. Learn more about Dr. Gromes here.
Human Rights: International Norms, International Shaming
Dr. Kristine Eck is an Associate Professor and Director of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Uppsala University, Sweden. Learn more about Dr. Eck.
A New Dataset on the First Intifada
Eitan Alimi, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Political Sociology at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Learn more about Prof. Alimi.
Gregory Maney, PhD, was the Harry H. Wachtel Distinguished Professor for the Study of Nonviolent Social Change at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA. Prof. Maney passed away in 2017. Learn more about his life's work and legacy.
IMF Lending and FDI Outflows: A Sectoral Perspective
International Interactions is a leading interdisciplinary journal that publishes original empirical, analytic, and theoretical studies of conflict and political economy. The journal has a particular interest in research that focuses upon the broad range of relations and interactions among the actors in the global system. Relevant topics include ethnic and religious conflict, interstate and intrastate conflict, conflict resolution, conflict management, economic development, regional integration, trade relations, institutions, globalization, terrorism, and geopolitical analyses. The journal aims to promote interaction among social science disciplines by encouraging interdisciplinary work among political scientists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, statisticians, and mathematicians.