Justice in Context: Paradigms of State and Conflict

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A paradigm of transitional justice has developed over the past 20-30 years, one that focuses on a set of specific measures—prosecutions, truth-seeking, reparations, and institutional reform—that try to redress the legacy of massive human rights abuses.

This paradigm emerged from the experiences of a particular group of countries in Latin America’s Southern Cone and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as South Africa. Despite all their differences, these countries shared some important features. They all had a fairly high degree of institutionalization, with relatively modern and functioning state institutions throughout their territories. And the human rights violations that took place in these countries were the result of the brutal exercise of state power by authoritarian regimes.

These features had significant impacts on the notion of transitional justice that emerged from such experiences: violence exercised mainly by just one actor facilitates the attribution of blame, and an adequate level of institutional and economic development helps make it possible to assign legal responsibility, to deliver reparations to victims, and to discuss meaningful institutional reforms. But neither these institutional characteristics nor this type of conflict is present in many of the countries that are currently transitioning or are likely to in the future.

These countries present markedly different institutional settings, characterized by weak or “failed” states, and very different types of conflict, frequently involving a plethora of violent agents. The recent transitions in the MENA region also have distinctive features that should not be ignored, including the absence of established political parties and the salience of corruption among the grievances of citizens. A range of other contexts, including “new” states, international protectorates, ongoing conflicts, and consolidated democracies, are marked by even more varied conditions.

Project Aims

This project will examine the preconditions, implications, and consequences of applying transitional justice measures across the increasingly wide variety of contexts in which they are implemented or advocated, hence engaging in the sort of self-reflection that helps the field to understand the necessary conditions for its own success.

Themes/Structure

The project will be organized around the following thematic clusters:

  • Transitional Justice and Institutional Formation: This cluster will examine the relationship between transitional justice and institutional strength and societal resilience, with an eye toward the roles of formal state institutions, civil society, and informal local practices.

  • Transitional Justice and Conflict: This cluster will focus on the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing transitional justice measures in conflict and post-conflict contexts, paying particular attention to different typologies of conflict.

  • Transitional Justice and New Forms of Criminality: This cluster will look at new types of crimes that transitional justice measures may need to redress in different contexts, in particular issues of corruption and organized crime.