Analysis of The Justice Cascade by Kathryn Sikkink

The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics. By Kathryn Sikkink. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2011, 352, pp. $18.42 (Hardcover)

The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics Written by Kathryn Sikkink, is an exploration of the need for justice in the political scene. It is an assessment of the significance of accountability among politicians. It further reinforces the need for the empowerment of international tribunals to try cases that involve important political leaders to deter future recurrences of power abuse. Overall, the book seeks to answer the question on how human rights prosecutions influence the world politics?

The exploration of this question results led the author to several findings. Firstly, in reinforcing the need for trials of leaders especially in cases of crimes against humanity, the author predicates that the initiative promotes the principle of democracy and promoting human rights as international norm. Logically, as more leaders are put on trial, it becomes more likely that in the future leaders will respect the rights of their people and will think twice before violating human rights. Likewise, it is also likely that individuals in high positions will avoid actions that border on corruption or abuse of power while they are in any governmental or nongovernmental position. The author provided cases of power abuse in several countries. On this manifestation, Sikkink indicates that over the years, “a ruptured transition was no longer a condition for prosecutions” (Sikkink 83). Secondly, the author undertakes to examine former high-profile cases which involved political figures on an international platform. She negates the claims made by skeptics who prevail that the trials are often a sham intended to deceive the public. Such skeptics indicate that international system is largely intended to benefit the affluent and powerful figures, while neglect the need for the application of the law in its entirety. Sikkink noted that such prosecutions comprise some of the most effective ways by which occurrences of abuse of power and dictatorship nationally and internationally are negated. She attributes the increase in democracy across the globe to such prosecutions. According to Sikkink, the justice cascade is a basic example of “norm cascade”. The author opts for the term “cascades” to describe the newly emerging phenomenon. For instance, the social life in the United States is full of these cascades. An example is a policy of banning public smoking which after proposition became widely accepted as the norm (Sikkink 15). Sikkink suggested that the political leaders’ prosecutions will be worldwide accepted as a universal norm.

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More than ever, countries in Africa, Europe and Latin America do not have to bear the brunt of aggressive leadership as a result of the publicized prosecutions. Leaders of these countries ended up losing immunity for any acts of human rights violation. Shkkink acknowledge the role of human rights activists in these countries. Human rights activists helps to correct the behaviour of political leaders around the globe. In this book, the author discredits the critics who reject the need for the early prosecutorial interventions in the political environment. Such critics suggest that this may be the cause of further conflict in the countries affected by the prosecutions. However, Sikkink supports the idea that such prosecutions have greatly augmented human rights empowerment and democratic efforts initiated in many countries today.

The book presents historical and global cases. Sikkink considers the reality of justice and the international norm, the book took a comprehensive approach. It does not limit itself to a particular region of the world, but rather explores the manifestation of political abuses and injustice on a global scale. The global approach ensures that the justice cascade or the prosecutions of political leaders become an international norm. The author hints that without the pursuance of political leaders’ prosecutions as an international norm, conflicts may continue to arise and resolving these conflicts may be postponed, which leads to division, chaos or maybe civil war in a given country. In engaging an inclusive tone to assess the implications of human rights in the international community, the book succeeds in exploring the contrasts between the previous political environments in many countries and the prevailing stability in countries that were previously unstable. The author predicates that leaders are subjected to fear when they are made to witness the prosecution of their fellows on an international platform (Sikkink 174).

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The author asserted that, “The culminating point of the justice cascade was the creation of the International Criminal Court” (Sikkink 209). The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to ensure that individuals are responsible and will be held accountable for their actions. The author explores the history of the tribunal and the factors that led to its establishment and empowerment. Most of the critics feels that the ICC is partisan and avoids cases that involve superpowers while imposing its power on the weak nations. The book determines that leaders of the powerful countries have not yet charged or prosecuted for their crimes against humanity. For instance, the events that took place in the aftermath of September 11 attack in New York, which led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The author dissected that at the time, the binding frameworks between the US and the ICC were not fully ratified to prosecute individuals who were found to have propagated torture of suspects. Although, the United States have signed the Rome statute, but on May 6, 2002 the United States formally withdrew its intent of ratification.

The book answers the tough questions with regards to the power of the international tribunals to prosecute political and high-ranking figures. It attributes the reduction in cases of political abuse to the increased empowerment of international prosecutions. Sikkink’s analysis allows the reader access to the history and progress of human rights protection frameworks on a global scale. It provides the readers the foundational knowledge that they require to fully understand the implications of human rights prosecutions on the international scene.

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Ahmed AlAbdullatif

International Relations

Florida International University

[email protected]

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