Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions? | 2021 | Events

Do Americans Support War Crimes Prosecutions?
Kelebogile Zvobgo
Kelebogile Zvobgo
University of Southern California
April 28, 2021


Do Americans support war crimes prosecutions? Historically, the United States has presented itself as a standard bearer of international criminal justice, contributing to the establishment of multiple international tribunals, including in Germany, the Balkans, and Rwanda. The U.S. even participated in the drafting of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 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. war 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 the question of whether Americans’ support of the Court is conditional on U.S. personnel not being under investigation and what discursive frames support or undermine the ICC. Building on U.S. foreign policy public opinion research, we theorize that human rights frames increase support for the ICC’s Afghanistan investigation, while national interest frames decrease support. We administer an online survey experiment to test these expectations. In addition, we explore Americans’ preferred venue for war crimes prosecutions: the ICC, national courts, or the courts of foreign nations.


Kelebogile Zvobgo is Provost's Fellow in the Social Sciences at the University of Southern California, where she recently defended her Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations. Beginning in fall 2021, she will be an Assistant Professor of Government at William & Mary. She has been a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow since 2017 and she founded the International Justice Lab in 2019. Her research broadly engages questions in human rights, transitional justice, and international law. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Human RightsPS: Political Science & Politics, and Journal of Political Science Education, and in Foreign Policy and The Washington Post, among other popular press outlets.