This paper explores the domestic politics of international norm diffusion, using the global transmission of transitional justice norms as the empirical context of the research. Applying sociological institutionalism as the principal theoretical framework, I argue that the motivation of states to adopt international models of transitional justice has changed over time. The transitional justice norm - that posits that war crimes and massive human rights abuses must be dealt with in a proper legal setting and not through “victors’ justice” or impunity - was institutionalized in large part as the result of a strong domestic demand for transitional justice in countries like Argentina and South Africa. However, as this norm began to diffuse through the international system, states began to adopt international justice but now for very different reasons – to achieve international legitimacy, to get rid of domestic political opponents, to appease international coercion, or out of uncertainty. A paradox, then, is that the more norms of transitional justice become institutionalized internationally, the more likely states will adopt them, but now for reasons that can be contrary to the original objectives of the transitional justice project. This is important because domestic actors can achieve local political goals that are quite different from those advocated by international rules and standards if they give the appearance they are conforming to appropriate norms.

My paper explains why some states adopt and some reject international justice arrangements. I look systematically at a range of motives states put forward in deciding whether to adopt or reject particular international organizational models. I then examine the relationship between state motivation for adopting international justice models and domestic political consequences these models generate. The paper concludes with the discussion of how domestic politics filters international norms and predicts ways in which we can expect domestic variation of system-level norms in the context of international justice.

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