Kathryn Sikkink


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

Cover Interview of December 11, 2011

A close-up

I would hope your “just browsing” readers would read the introduction first.  In the first seven pages they will encounter both the main puzzle of the book, and the personal and professional path that led me to the project.  I would hope that these first pages might engage their interest and draw them into the rest of the book.  In this first section, and periodically throughout the book, I try to tell the stories of real people who helped imagine and create the justice cascade.

One problem with much of academic writing is that real people are often absent from its stories.  But at the beginning of any norm cascade, like the justice cascade, specific people work hard to propose new ideas and policies, and they share their ideas with others who carry them to new settings.  The early adopters of new human rights norms don’t contract the ideas through the air like a virus, but always through struggle, innovations, and often just plain luck.

The justice cascade was not spontaneous, nor was it the result of the natural evolution of law or global culture in the countries where the prosecutions occurred.  These changes in ideas were fueled by the human rights movement.  The cascade started due to the concerted efforts of small groups of public interest lawyers, jurists, and activists who pioneered strategies, developed legal arguments, recruited plaintiffs and witnesses, marshaled evidence, and persevered through years of legal challenges. The work of these norm entrepreneurs was facilitated by two broader structural changes in the world, the third wave of democracy and the end of the Cold War.  The first multiplied the number of transitional countries open to the trends described here, and the second opened space for countries to consider a wider range of policy options.

This book tells the whole diffusion story of human rights prosecutions from its beginnings with advocates in Athens and Buenos Aires to the rapid spread of ideas and practices of individual criminal accountability in the early 21st century.