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Capsule Review

The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics

In This Review

The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics (The Norton Series in World Politics)
The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics (The Norton Series in World Politics)
By Kathryn Sikkink
W. W. Norton & Company, 2011 342 pp. $27.95 Purchase

For centuries, states and state officials were largely immune from prosecution for human rights violations in domestic and foreign courts. But in recent decades, this has changed, and now former or even sitting heads of state are brought before various national and international courts or tribunals. In this impressive study, Sikkink tracks and explains this truly remarkable shift. A dramatic breakthrough occurred in 1998, when General Augusto Pinochet, the former ruler of Chile, was arrested in London on an extradition request by a Spanish court seeking to try him for crimes committed during his military dictatorship. Later, several sitting heads of state -- notably, Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and Charles Taylor of Liberia -- were indicted for war crimes. Sikkink traces the evolution in the reigning orthodoxy about states and human right violations, the result of a series of shifts in international legal standards and practices. It is an inspiring story of the rise and spread of a set of ideas and norms -- what she calls a “justice cascade,” propelled to a great degree by the tireless efforts of human rights activists in Europe and Latin America.

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