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A Social Psychology Model of the Perceived Legitimacy of International Criminal Courts: Implications for the Success of Transitional Justice Mechanisms

Posted by on Friday, June 8, 2012 in Articles, Vol. 45 No. 2, Volume 45.

There is a large body of literature arguing that positive perceived legitimacy is a critical factor in the success of international criminal courts, and that courts can be engineered in such a way that they will be positively perceived by adjusting factors such as their institutional structure and outreach efforts. But in many situations the perceived legitimacy of international criminal courts has almost nothing to do with these factors.  This Article takes the latest research in social psychology and applies it to survey data about perceptions of international criminal courts in order to understand how affected populations form attitudes about courts. The resulting conclusions are at odds with most other theorists’ understanding of perceived legitimacy. Where there is a high degree of identification between large parts of the affected population and the “sides” in the conflict that led to the establishment of a court, the way in which the court is perceived will be determined largely by whom the court prosecutes. Indictments that conflict with the dominant internal narratives among the various groups will lead directly to lower perceptions of the court’s legitimacy.

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