Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers
Chapter 20: Choice and Consequence in Strategies of Transitional Justice
Geoff Dancy 20.1 INTRODUCTION More and more, today’s hopes of erasing violent conflict and vitalizing democratic institutions are being pinned on transitional justice.1 “Just as wounds fester when they are not exposed to the open air,” one scholar writes, “so unacknowledged injustice can poison societies and produce cycles of distrust, hatred, and violence” (Kiss 2000, p. 72). However, this viewpoint and the practices to which it alludes are relatively new. Before 1990, only ten countries in the world had prosecuted human rights violators, and only five had formed truth commissions to systematically investigate their pasts. By 2007, these figures had spiked: trials had been initiated for 59 state jurisdictions, and at least one official truth-seeking body had been established in 33 states.2 With these advancements, transitional justice shifted from a narrow area of advocacy to the strategic forefront of transnational democratic state-building, rule of law promotion and postconflict peacebuilding. First used in 1991,3 the term “transitional justice” surfaced at the intersection of two emergent global phenomena: a strengthening human rights regime and the fourth wave of democratization (Aranhövel 2008; Arthur 2009). By the 1980s, moral indignation to repressive tactics like torture, disappearances and political imprisonment reached a fevered pitch, and the international community began to mobilize in response. Democratization, sweeping the world, was a multistaged process – involving destabilization, a transitional sequence and consolidation – shepherded through by decision-making elites (O’Donnell, Schmitter and Whitehead 1986; Karl 2005). Transitional justice designated elites’ efforts to settle accounts for the worst of past...
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