Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Transitional Justice, Rule of Law, Human Rights, Local Legal Consciousness, Croatia

Major Advisor

Richard Ashby Wilson

Associate Advisor

Emma Gilligan

Associate Advisor

Francoise Dussart

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


In this dissertation I evaluate the efforts of international tribunals to strengthen the rule of law from the perspective of the people who were directly involved in the war crimes, whether as a victim, perpetrator, or both. My research in a small Croatian community is an investigation of the local legal consciousness to understand if tenets of the rule of law promoted by the tribunal are compatible with the prevailing norms. The focus on a community of Serb returnees and Bosnian Croat refugees highlights the concerns of minorities living in Croatia after the 1990s conflict that included ethnic cleansing, displacement and destruction of property in this area. The everyday conflicts that people must negotiate shape their views of accountability, fairness and security, all components of the rule of law.

Most rule of law initiatives concentrate on institutional reforms, but here I emphasize the importance of a transformation of norms at the local level. Only a profound understanding of the local legal consciousness will allow initiatives to effectively promote change. In this analysis the local legal consciousness in Croatia does appear to support many components of the rule of law as it is conceived by the tribunal, but it falls short of being considered a rule of law culture. There are considerable obstacles in the form of opposing norms that conflict with rule of law values. Those obstacles are: (1) the nature of law, (2) ethno-religious nationalism, (3) the impact of insecurity, and (4) the lack of political agency. The role of the Croatian government, particularly in its perceived shortcomings by the public, is integral to the relationship between the international and local. My research demonstrates that there are elements of the local legal consciousness that both reinforce and oppose the strengthening of the rule law. This understanding aids an assessment of how salient rule of law initiatives will be to local communities. What is at stake in this research is a fuller understanding of the apparently limited ability of the ‘international community’ to generate local support for international courts engaged in post-conflict reconstruction, reconciliation and accountability.