Treaty Content and Costs: Explaining State Commitment to the International Criminal Court

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Dutton, Yvonne Marie
International Law; International Relations; Political Science
thesis / dissertation description
The International Criminal Court is the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court established to help end impunity for perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. More than 100 countries have ratified the treaty creating the court. By doing so, they have agreed to cede to an independent prosecutor the power to prosecute the state's own nationals for mass atrocities when the prosecutor and the ICC court determine the state is unwilling or unable to do so domestically. But, why have states committed to an institution like the ICC which has serious enforcement mechanisms to punish noncompliant behavior? States do regularly ratify the many toothless treaties designed to hold states accountable to respecting individual human rights. However, because enforcement mechanisms in those treaties are weak or non-existent, states can show their good will by ratifying, yet ignore treaty terms when compliance becomes inconvenient. This dissertation examines the puzzle of ICC commitment. I theorize that states will view the ICC's enforcement mechanisms as a credible threat and only commit if their retrospective cost calculations about their ability to comply with treaty terms show that commitment will not lead to a significant sovereignty loss. In this case, states should consider (1) the institutional design of the treaty - specifically, the level of enforcement mechanisms to punish noncompliance and (2) the state's domestic characteristics relating to its ability to comply with treaty terms. Empirical findings here provide support for the credible threat theory. In contrast to prior studies empirically examining state commitment to international human rights treaties, I find that states with poorer human rights practices are less likely than states with good practices to commit to the ICC. Although this means that member states tend to have relatively good human rights practices, it does not imply that the ICC will not positively influence state behavior. Indeed, the ICC is uniquely situated to improve international cooperation on human rights matters since it has been designed so that commitment requires compliance. All states that have joined the court - including those with poor practices - will have to comply or face sovereignty losses.