Overview of Transitional Justice

What is Transitional Justice?

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) is a nonprofit organization that implements transitional justice policies in over thirty countries around the world. This ICTJ factsheet, published in 2009, offers a brief yet informative introduction to the topic. It defines transitional justice as a “response to systematic or widespread violations of human rights” and a process that strives to attain “recognition for victims and promotion of possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy.” Transitional justice came about as a response to political turmoil in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the late 20th century. There are many “forms” of transitional justice including but not limited to criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparation programs, gender justice, security system reform, and memorialization efforts. Despite these many divisions, “all transitional justice approaches are based on a fundamental belief in universal human rights,” according to the ICTJ. This factsheet also describes the various challenges that exist in implementing successful transitional justice programs, such as maintaining the delicate balance of “address[ing] systematic abuses by former regimes […] without endangering the political transformations that [are] underway,” and ensuring that the victims feel legitimately satisfied. Because of these challenges, the ICTJ recommends that nations take a holistic approach to transitional justice, as the field continues to develop, evolve, and diversify.

International Center for Transitional Justice. “What is Transitional Justice?” 2009. June 2014. <http://ictj.org/sites/default/files/ICTJ-Global-Transitional-Justice-2009-English.pdf>.


Transitional Justice

This entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy delves into the more subtle intricacies of transitional justice. The piece begins by laying out the foundation for its future claims and explaining the major goals of transitional justice policies. It specifically states that transitional justice policy should include, “creating a reliable record of past human rights abuses, setting up a functional, professional bureaucracy and civil service, helping victims restructure and repair their lives, and stopping violence and consolidating stability.” The entry goes on to describe the relationships between those goals. These relationships are often characterized as competing tensions. Each society that implements transitional justice measures is forced to learn how to adequately balance these tensions in a manner that fits the needs and desires of the community or nation in question. According to the source, this has been the case in “almost every transition since World War II,” from the criminal prosecutions of the Nuremberg trials to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and beyond.

“Transitional Justice.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 4 April 2014. Web. June 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-transitional>.


Transitional Justice and Development: Making Connections (p. 28-109)

This source describes the complex link between transitional justice and development on both a conceptual and practical level. It explains that “developing societies emerging from conflict and authoritarianism are frequently beset by poverty, inequality, weak institutions, broken infrastructure, poor governance, insecurity, and low levels of social capital.” The authors then make the connection between these issues and the realization that these societies are “also often the scene of massive human rights violations that leave in their wake victims who are displaced, marginalized, handicapped, widowed, and orphaned.” This source emphasizes that it is crucial to understand the connection between transitional justice and development in order to create comprehensive responses and solutions to global issues. In chapter one, focus is given to the “direct” links and “indirect” links between transitional justice and development, as well as what transitional justice can contribute to development. The role of “developmental deficits” in the roots of conflict, the question of how many resources should be “devoted to ‘dealing with the past’ in comparison to the urgent needs of a population,” and the idea of social capital are also discussed at length in this chapter. Chapter two elaborates on the arguments of chapter one, and focuses on addressing the four main questions listed on page seventy-seven. While only chapters one and two have been selected for the WorldLink Reader, the entire source is recommended for further reading, in particular chapter 3.

“Transitional Justice and Development: Making Connections.” Advancing Transitional Justice Series. New York: Social Science Research Council, 2009. p. 28-109. Web. June 2014. <http://www.ssrc.org/workspace/images/crm/new_publication_3/%7B1ed88247-585f-de11-bd80-001cc477ec70%7D.pdf>.

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