Bridging the Legitimacy Divide: The International Criminal Court’s Domestic Perception Challenge

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International institutions like the International Criminal Court (ICC) face significant hurdles that can prevent them from establishing their legitimacy with far- away audiences. The hurdles become almost insurmountable when the ICC intervenes over the government’s objection. This Article explores various factors that may influence the perceived legitimacy of international tribunals. It concludes that because the ICC faces access and communication disadvantages vis-à-vis state leaders, the ICC’s road to achieving domestic perception legitimacy will be a difficult one. Without significant and pervasive in-person outreach, the ICC will probably not be able to overcome any propaganda campaign government leaders wage against it to protect themselves and their cohort from being held accountable to the victims of violence. Yet the literature identifies in-person outreach as the best way to promote a far-removed audience’s awareness and understanding of an international court’s operations and processes, especially because those audiences are likely socialized to distrust judicial institutions. Even with access, the ICC still must overcome cross-cultural communication barriers. State leaders, by contrast, share in-group status with their citizenry. A case study of Kenya, using both documentary and interview evidence, illustrates the ICC’s domestic perception legitimacy challenge. After the ICC brought charges against them for committing crimes against humanity, Kenyan leaders fought back, besieging the public with rhetoric that painted the ICC as biased against Africa and a tool of colonialism. Enough Kenyans were apparently persuaded by the rhetoric that they backed leaders charged by the ICC with serious international crimes instead of supporting the ICC’s efforts to provide justice for Kenya’s victims. To avoid such a situation in the future, states and other stakeholders need to help spread and advance the ICC’s embodied norms of justice and accountability so that those norms are internalized by domestic audiences. This path to achieving domestic perception legitimacy will take time, but the payoff is that the ICC might be able to fulfill its goals.