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Transitional justice

    '''Introduction''' The term ‘transitional justice’ has recently received greater attention by both academics and policymakers It has also generated interest in the fields of political and legal discourse especially in transitional societies In period of political transitions from authoritarian dictatorial regimes or from civil conflicts to a democracy transitional justice has often provided opportunities for such societies to address past human rights abuses mass atrocities or other forms of severe trauma in order to facilitate a smooth transition into a more democratic or peaceful future This article discusses the concept of : the definition its historical roots and development various models modern-day trends of application in transitional states and its future in a transitional and democratization discourse
    DefinitionThe term ‘transitional justice’ generally refers to a range of approaches that states may use to address past human rights wrongs and includes both judicial and non-judicial approaches They include series of actions or policies and their resulting institutions which may be enacted at a point of political transition from violence and repression to societal stability Transitional justice is informed by a society’s desire to rebuild social trust repair a fractured justice system and build a democratic system of governance The core value of transitional justice is the notion of justice , not necessarily criminal justice but other forms of justice as well This notion and the political transformation such as regime change or transition from conflict are thus linked toward a more peaceful certain and democratic future
    The nature and history of transitional justiceThe origins of the transitional justice field can be traced back to the post-Word War II period in Europe with the establishment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and the various denazification programs in Germany and the trials of Japanese soldiers To be precise what became known as ‘Nuremberg Trials’ when the victorious allied forces extended criminal justice to Japanese and German soldiers and their leaders for war crimes committed during the war marked the genesis of transitional justice The field gained momentum and coherence during the 1980s and onwards beginning with the trials of former members of the military juntas in Greece (1975) and Argentina (1983) The focus of transitional justice in the 1970s and 1980s was on criminal justice with a focus on human rights promotion This led to a worldwide focus and progressive rise of human rights regime culminating in the establishments of international human rights laws and conventions The emphasis of transitional justice was on how abuses of human rights get treated during political transition: legal and criminal prosecution As noted earlier the universal conceptions of ‘justice’ became the platform for which transitional justice was premised The field in its early epistemology thus assumed jurisprudence of human rights It is no surprise then that initial literature on transitional justice was dominated by lawyers law and legal : defining laws and processes on how to deal with human rights abuse and holding people accountable Thus transitional justice has its roots in both the human rights movement and in international human rights and humanitarian law Located in the human rights movement makes transitional justice “self-consciously victim-centric”
    The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a shift in focus of transitional justice Informed by the worldwide wave of democratization particularly the third wave transitional justice re-emerged as a new field of study in democratization Transitional justice transformed itself from purely questions of jurisprudence to political and how to build a strong and stable democracy Studies by scholars on transition to democracy including Samuel Huntington O’Donnell and Schimiter have all touched on democratization and transitional justice The challenges of democratization in times of transition such as how to settle past account without derailing or upsetting the transition to democracy had a major impact on the subject of transitional justice transforming it to innovative strategies Hence in political terms democratic activists and their allies in government who sought to strengthen new democracies and comply with the moral and legal obligations that the human rights movement was articulating made important contributions to the transitional justice framework In particular truth commissions have emerged as one of the popular forms of transitional justice in the process of democratization during periods of transition Beginning with Argentina in 1983 Chile in 1990 and the most popular South Africa 1995 truth commissions have become a symbol of transitional justice appearing in transitional societies in Latin America Africa Asia Eastern Europe and in recent years proposals being encouraged in the Middle East
    From its core values as a link between transition and justice in the late 1940s the concept of transitional justice has been transformed to assume a broader perspective of comprehensive examination of the society in transition from a retrospective position to a prospective one with democratic consolidation as one of the primary objectives It must be noted that scholars and practitioners of democratization have come to a common conclusion on the general principles of a transitional justice framework: that national strategies to confront past abuses depending on the specific nature and context of the country in question can contribute to accountability an end to impunity reconstruct state-citizen relations and the creation of democratic institutions
    Aims/ObjectivesThe primary objective of a transitional justice policy is to end the culture of impunity and establish the rule of law in a context of democratic governance The legal and human rights protection roots of transitional justice impute certain legal obligations on states undergoing transitions It challenges such societies to strive for a society where respect for human rights is the core and accountability is routinely practiced as the main goals In the context of these goals transitional justice aims at:
     halting ongoing human rights abuses; investigating past crimes; identifying those responsible for human rights violations; imposing sanctions on those responsible (where it can); providing reparations to victims; preventing future abuses; preserving and enhancing peace; and fostering individual and national reconciliation
    In general therefore one can identify eight broad objectives that transitional justice aims to serve: establishing the truth providing victims a public platform holding perpetrators accountable strengthening the rule of law providing victims with compensation effectuating institutional reform promoting reconciliation and promoting public deliberation
    Strategies and forms of transitional justiceFour (4) broad categories of strategies or forms of transitional justice can be identified They are: Trials and Prosecution: The first and usually the most preferred choice It is a criminal justice or judicial approach either undertaken domestically internationally or what has become known in recent years as the hybrid From its historical trace to the ‘Nuremberg Trials’ recent examples have included the Sierra Leone’s Special Court the International Tribunal for Rwanda and Yugoslavia and in the last few years the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) assuming a universal jurisdiction;
     Truth Commission: A non-judicial or quasi judicial approach it has become very common and popular in recent transitional societies It investigates the past to determine the full extent and nature of past abuses through truth-telling process; forge reconciliation; develop reparations packages; memorialize and remember victims; and make proposals for the reform of abusive state institutions in order to prevent future violations They include both national (Argentina in 1983 Chile 1990 South Africa in 1995 Ghana in 2002) and international (El Salvador in 1992 Guatamala in 1997 East Timor in 2001 Sierra Leone in 2002);
     Lustration and/or Vetting: This include purging the public services and especially the security sector a process of excluding corrupt abusive and incompetent officials from working in the public sector This strategy has been common in Eastern Europe such as former Czechoslovakia Vetting is a process of examination and evaluation to eliminate corrupt and abusive officials through due process This process furthers accountability democratization and credibility of institutions; and
     Institutional Reform: Reform of abusive public institutions such as the police military and security intelligence establishments the Judiciary prisons amendments of obnoxious and abusive laws as well as constitutions
    These strategies can be applied singly or in a combination of two or three in a complementary approach States since 1980s have increasingly used this combination approach For example transitional justice can take the form of prosecuting perpetrators through domestic foreign or international tribunals and/or establishing a truth commission to investigate the past and forging reconciliation; or developing reparations packages as well as memorializing and remembering victims; and reforming abusive state institutions in order to prevent future violations The case of Sierra Leone is one notable example of this feature where criminal justice was combined with a truth and reconciliation commission In addition local and traditional forms of justice reconciliation and community reintegration initiatives such as the ‘GACACA’ in Rwanda have been witnessed in some transitional societies
    Trends and challenges within transitional justiceStates in times of transition to democracy since the early 1980s have been using a variety of transitional justice mechanisms as part of measures to account for the past and build a future democratic state Mechanisms such as ‘trials’ ‘truth commissions’ ‘reparations’ ‘lustration’ ‘museums’ and other ‘memory sites’ have been employed either single handedly or in a combined form to address past human rights violations Diverse studies ranging from the decision-making process of a choice of strategy through to the implementation of the transitional justice policy and impacts on the transition and future stability of the society in question have been produced by scholars in recent years But perhaps one illuminating study that has documented the dramatic new trend of transitional justice and democratization is by Kathryn Sikkink and Carrie Booth Walling (2006) In their research paper described as ‘the justice cascade’ Sikkink and Walling conducting analysis of truth commissions and human rights trials occurring throughout the world from 1979 to 2004 revealed a significant increase in the judicialization of world politics both regionally and internationally Of the one hundred and ninety-two (192) countries surveyed thirty-four (34) have used truth commissions and fifty (50) had at least one transitional human rights trial More significantly well over two-thirds of the approximately eighty-five (85) new and/or transitional countries during that period used either trials or truth commissions as a transitional justice mechanism; over half tried some form of judicial proceedings Thus the use of a truth commission and/or human rights trials among transitional countries is not an isolated or marginal practice but a very widespread social practice occurring in the bulk of transitional countries noted the authors
    Transitional justice since its emergence has encountered numerous challenges In particular these challenges are related to the goals of transitional justice Achieving these goals can be fraught with difficulties such as identifying victims deciding whether to punish superiors or middle agents avoiding a ‘victor’s justice’ and finding adequate resources for compensation trial or institutional reform Also the transitional period may only result in a tenuous peace or fragile democracy As has been noted in the discourse on transition to democracy the dilemma has always been for new regimes to promote accountability for past abuses without risking a smooth transition to democracy In addition existing judicial system might be weak corrupt or ineffective and in effect make achieving any viable justice difficult Observers of transitional justice application and processes such as Makau Matua (2000) emphasized on the difficulties of achieving actual justice through one of the most prominent mechanisms of transitional justice trials Commenting on the international tribunal established in Rwanda in 1994 he argued that it “serves to deflect responsibility to assuage the consciences of states which were unwilling to stop the genocide… [1] largely masks the illegitimacy of the Tutsi regime” In sum Matua argues that criminal tribunals such as those in Rwanda and Yugoslavia are “less meaningful if they cannot be applied or enforced without prejudice to redress transgressions or unless they have a deterrent effect such as behavior modification on the part of would be perpetrators”
    This type of critique of transitional justice mechanisms causes one to wonder which of the objectives outlined above are most important to achieve and even if they are achievable For its part truth commissions have been characterized as the second best alternative and also an affront to rule of law because of its tolerance to amnesty and indemnities in exchange for truth These sets of challenges raise critical questions for transitional justice in its application Questions and issues such as: Can the ‘truth’ ever really be established? Can all victims be given compensation or a public platform? Can all perpetrators be held accountable? Or is it sufficient to acknowledge that atrocities were committed and that victims should be compensated for their suffering?
    Focusing on the challenges of transitional justice runs the risk of making the process seem meaningless It must be noted however that the goal of transitional justice is a continuous search for the truth justice forgiveness and healing and results in people being able to live alongside former enemies Simply put “the past must be addressed in order to reach the future” Thus even if the impact or reach of transitional justice seems marginal the end result is worth the effort
    The future of transitional justiceAlthough transitional justice is engulfed by many critical challenges in addition to the difficulty in measuring its impact given the number of other factors in any given country’s experience over time there is no reason to believe that human rights trials or truth commissions have a negative effect on human rights practices This makes transitional justice viable especially in this age of state-building and democracy promotion in post-conflict societies In fact Sikkink and Walling’s comparison of human rights conditions before and after trails in Latin American countries with two or more trial years showed that eleven (11) of the fourteen (14) countries had better Political Terror Scale (PTS) ratings after trials Latin American countries that had both a truth commission and human rights trials improved more on their PTS ratings than countries that only had trials These statistics indicate that transitional justice mechanisms are associated with countries’ improving their human rights practices Each state that employs transitional justice mechanisms will have to determine which mechanisms to use to best achieve the targeted goals In order to avoid causing disappointment amongst victims the state should also ensure that the public is well-informed about the goals and limits of those mechanisms
    Transitional justice shows no signs of decreasing in use Indeed the incorporation of transitional justice policies tools and programs in peacebuilding and democratization process operations by the United Nations(UN)and in the programs by many local and international democracy promotion organizations including the Stockholm based International Institute for Electoral Assistance and Democracy (International IDEA) United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and a host of others as well as the establishments of other international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and networks such as the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the African Transitional Justice Research Network (ATJRN) are strong manifestations of how well placed transitional justice has become a feature in the discourse of transitional politics in the twenty-first century Future innovations tailored for a specific state’s situation should help guarantee that using transitional justice mechanisms results in a smooth political transition that adequately addresses past human rights abuses and thus promote democracy
    For more on this topic see generally wwwictjorg and for a copyrighted : http://wwwictjorg/static/TJApproaches/WhatisTJ/macmillanTJengpdf

    Classic works

    • Kritz Neil ed. (1995) Transitional : How Emerging Democracies Reckon with Former Regimes Vols I–III Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press
    • Mendez Juan E. (1997) "Accountability for Past Abuses" Human Rights Quarterly 19:255
    • Nino Carlos S. (1996) Radical Evil on Trial New Haven Conn: Yale University Press
    • Zalaquett Jose (1993) "Introduction to the English Edition" In Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation: Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation trans Phillip E. Berryman South Bend Ind: University of Notre Dame Press

    External links

    International Centre for Transitional Justice
    African Transitional Justice Research Network
    Transitional Justice Forum
    Information about Transitional Justice from the Penal Reform International website