IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Structural determinants of human rights prosecutions after democratic transition


  • Hun Joon Kim

    (Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University)


Over the last three decades, a growing number of countries have experienced a transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and the new governments have been increasingly expected to address past human rights violations. While the academic literature on the impact of human rights prosecution is relatively well developed, the literature on the causes of such prosecution is still sparse. Why do states pursue criminal prosecutions against former state officials on the charge of human rights violations? This article answers this question by testing three key theories: the balance of power between old and new elites, transnational advocacy networks, and the diffusion theory. I conduct a cross-national study of 71 countries that were in a state of democratic transitions between 1980 and 2006, using a new dataset on domestic human rights prosecutions. I find strong evidence to support the transnational advocacy networks and diffusion explanations. First, active domestic and international human rights advocacy for individual criminal accountability is a key factor guaranteeing persistent and frequent human rights prosecutions. My study further shows that domestic advocacy plays a crucial role in criminal prosecutions of high-profile state officials while international pressure is more effective in promoting prosecutions of low-profile officials. Second, the diffusion theory is also supported since the occurrence of human rights prosecution in neighboring countries is a relevant factor. Interestingly, transitional countries are most sensitive to trials occurring in culturally or linguistically similar countries and this supports the constructivist norm diffusion theory, which focuses on the role of identity and communication in the diffusion process. However, I find that the power balance explanation, which has been the prevailing explanation, is valid only for the immediate use of human rights prosecutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Hun Joon Kim, 2012. "Structural determinants of human rights prosecutions after democratic transition," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 49(2), pages 305-320, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:49:y:2012:i:2:p:305-320

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:49:y:2012:i:2:p:305-320. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (SAGE Publications). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.