Transnational Influences on Rights, Citizenship, and Democracy


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20150101

I will use the spiral model proposed by Risse and Sikkink to demonstrate how transnational law shaped Guatemala and Nicaragua. Risse and Sikkink established five main phases for their spiral model and I paraphrase:

  • Transnational networks are solicited to strengthen domestic responses to state repression.
  • Transnational networks use international human rights to pressure the state to modify their behavior.
  • The domestic opposition increases and it becomes increasingly difficult for the state to maintain repression; Concessions usually follow.
  • Prescriptive phase-The state takes action by passing laws that reflect a new commitment or acceptance of the international norm/s.
  • Rule consistent behavior-The state and society behave consistently with the institutionalized rule as evidenced by attempts to reconcile past human rights injustices or establish mechanisms to prevent future occurrences.

In Nicaragua, the Sandinista Revolution (1979) marked the domestic response to state repression (under the Samoza dictatorship) and the solicitation of international support (Jackson, Tolley, and Volcansek 2010). The domestic and exiled groups gained support from the United States, the Contras (an armed wing), and a small percentage of transnational activist networks. By 1987, such pressure had influenced the Sandinista government to make a concession (e.g., commitment to constitutional democracy), committed them to ensuring more citizen rights, and produced an election that brought the government to an end. The constitution incorporated international human rights treaties and inspired a human rights ombudsman’s office. Unfortunately, corruption still allows wealthy and powerful government officials, politicians, and others to go unpunished (impunity) in many cases. Although government repression declined, corruption has prevented rule consistent behavior in Nicaragua. Human rights violations now occur mostly as a byproduct of civil society advocacy group’s lack of pressure on the government, disconnectedness from international donor groups, and political ambitions that divert attention away from influencing the rule of law (Jackson, Tolley, and Volcansek 2010).

In Guatemala, repression between the 1970s and 1990s targeted certain groups of people and the government attempted to justify such repression as “necessary for the successful completion of the civil war” (Jackson, Tolley, and Volcansek 2010, 170). The United States cut aid for Guatemala because of the government’s human rights record, but continued supporting the military despite the human rights violations that continued to occur. The military later made concessions by reducing its governmental influence, thus returning the government to a more democratic form. Simultaneously, transnational advocacy networks including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and solidarity organizations in Europe and the U.S. frequently criticized the government’s human rights and legal practices. National and international pressure mounted with organizations referencing international human rights documents such as ILO treaty 169 and attempting to enforce the rule of law. Increased pressure in regard to the rule of law came from multiple aid projects (such as the World Bank) and the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), civil society groups such as Widows Group (CONAVIGUA), human rights organizations such as the Myrna Mack Foundation, educational and investigative agencies at universities such as San Carlos University, and legal activist groups such as Human Rights Legal Action Center (CALDH). The two Guatemalan truth commissions, numerous human rights organizations who fought impunity through participation in prosecutorial trials involving military agents who assassinated human rights activists, and a strong civil society activist community demonstrates at least some level of rule consistent behavior in Guatemala (Jackson, Tolley, and Volcansek 2010).

In the cases of Nicaragua and Guatemala it becomes clear that international human rights pressure may produce concessions that lead to a passing of laws and a decline in government repression, but other factors such as corruption, impunity, and a weak civil society activist community may prevent rule consistent behavior from being realized.

In Uganda, for example, corruption and impunity has not fostered the rule of law, but the rule of men (Jackson, Tolley, and Volcansek 2010). Further, the prospect of a strong civil society activist community has been continuously threatened by militarized politics. In such an environment, democracy cannot flourish, free and fair elections cannot occur, and human rights cannot be respected.




Jackson, Donald W., Michael Carlton Tolley, and Mary L. Volcansek. 2010. Globalizing Justice: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Law and the Cross-border Migration of Legal Norms. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed December 30, 2014).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s