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Human Rights Quarterly 23.4 (2001) 1032-1061

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International Criminal Justice: Rwanda and French Human Rights Activism

Shiva Eftekhari

I. Introduction

In the short period beginning November 1997 and ending December 1998, the French political establishment confronted two crises relating to the conduct of its foreign policy. These events qualify as "crises" because they called into question both the philosophical foundations and the broader aims of France's role in the international system.

In the first case, the French government, citing the risk to its military officers, suspended cooperation with the Yugoslav Tribunal and openly displayed misgivings about the establishment of an international criminal court, the subject of an international conference in Rome in June-July 1998. The mystery of French motivations--and the ultimate restoration of ties with international criminal fora--must be studied in light of an accompanying development, that of a transnational activist network that arose in response to France's obstructive position on international criminal justice. This puzzling scenario, France's ironic rejection of a human rights-inspired cause followed by a conciliatory policy of resigned acceptance, was repeated in a contemporaneous debate over the nature of France's role in Rwanda during the years 1990 to 1994. Political actors preserved their silence on French involvement until another advocacy network began to call for clarity. [End Page 1032]

This paper seeks to explain why French political actors, in both cases, abruptly abandoned obstruction in favor of conciliation. Space limitations necessitate a cursory examination of the Rwanda affair; the principal interest of this second case will be to confirm and enlarge upon the conclusions of the first debate.

The origins of these two crises, to be explored in depth, would, in principle, place them at opposite poles of French policy-making. Their development, however, reflected a similar dynamic, that of transnational activism. Relying on the insights of Paul Wapner as well as those of Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, this article will attempt to interpret this parallel evolution from a theoretical perspective. These theorists focus on the influence of nonstate actors, namely activists, on state practices. Both their studies will illuminate the two crises, most notably the points of convergence and divergence. At the same time, the fundamental tension between the two theories will broaden the scope of this analysis by revealing the complexity and uniqueness of each case.

The first section will review the models of transnational activism. A theoretical examination of the origins of the two crises will follow. The third and final section will review the debates in detail.

II. The Agency of Activist Groups: A Review of Selected Theories

Margaret E. Keck, Kathryn Sikkink, and Paul Wapner have analyzed the significance of the rise of transnational activism since the 1960s. While their conclusions can ultimately be viewed as complementary rather than mutually exclusive, their assumptions about the nature of international politics are fundamentally different.

In his examination of transnational environmental activist groups (TEAGs), Paul Wapner rejects the traditional state-oriented pattern of analysis in favor of a broader, more inclusive view of international relations. 1 He introduces the concept of "world civic politics" in order to emphasize that the effects of transnational activism are more far-reaching than studies employing a state-centric perspective would indicate. 2 The latter research has ignored activist groups' influence on international society in general; it has instead chosen to examine their effectiveness in pressuring states to alter their practices. In Wapner's opinion, such studies neglect [End Page 1033] activism's impact on civil society, which is captured in the term "world civic politics." Applying his broad conception of international politics, Wapner portrays activists as instigators of ideational change--of the alteration of perception and opinion--among members of global society, the latter being "that slice of associational life which exists above the individual and below the state, but also across national boundaries." 3 Thus, when activists broaden their efforts rather than focusing solely on states, they operate in this sphere. By educating global society on particular issues, transnational movements spark a change in the "'societal mood...


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