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In the Shadow of the International Criminal Court: Does the ICC Deter Human Rights Violations?

Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


The International Criminal Court (ICC) is responsible for prosecuting crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Despite the potential for the ICC to deter human rights abuses, scholars and policy makers are divided on the effectiveness of it. This debate, however, is plagued by some important theoretical and empirical limitations. I address the problems in the literature and evaluate whether the ICC can prevent human rights abuses. I argue that the ICC can deter governments from committing human rights violations by imposing a variety of costs on them throughout their investigations that decrease their expected payoffs for engaging in human rights abuses. Across a variety of statistical estimators that account for standard threats to inference and several anecdotes, I find strong support for my theoretical expectations; leaders from states that have ratified the Rome Statute commit lower levels of human rights abuses than nonratifier leaders.