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Kelebogile Zvobgo: Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions?

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Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs

Comparative Politics / International Relations


Kelebogile Zvobgo: Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions?

Do Americans support war crimes prosecutions? Historically, the United States has touted itself as a torchbearer of international criminal justice, leading the establishment of multiple international tribunals, from Germany and Japan to the Balkans and Rwanda. The United States even participated in the drafting of the governing treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet the nation has never itself been the subject of an international criminal tribunal – until now. In 2020, the ICC's chief prosecutor opened a formal investigation into alleged U.S. atrocity crimes relating to the war in Afghanistan. Prior research shows that Americans support the ICC and U.S. membership. However, this work precedes the Afghanistan investigation, leaving open two important questions: (1) is the public's support conditional on the ICC not investigating and prosecuting U.S. personnel and (2) what discursive frames support or undermine the ICC's efforts? Building on the literature on U.S. foreign policy public opinion, we theorize that human rights frames increase and national interest frames decrease support for the ICC's work in Afghanistan. We administer an online survey experiment to test these expectations. We also explore Americans' preferred venue for war crimes prosecutions: the ICC, U.S. domestic courts, or foreign domestic courts.

Kelebogile Zvobgo is an Assistant Professor of Government at William & Mary and Founder and Director of the International Justice Lab. Dr. Zvobgo’s research engages questions in human rights, transitional justice, and international law and courts, and has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including International Studies Quarterly and the Journal of Human Rights. It has also been featured in a variety of U.S. media, including newspapers, magazines, podcasts, and television. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Southern California.

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