Research Handbook on Transitional Justice
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Research Handbook on Transitional Justice

Edited by Cheryl Lawther, Luke Moffett and Dov Jacobs

Providing detailed and comprehensive coverage of the transitional justice field, this Research Handbook brings together leading scholars and practitioners to explore how societies deal with mass atrocities after periods of dictatorship or conflict. Situating the development of transitional justice in its historical context, social and political context, it analyses the legal instruments that have emerged.
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Chapter 2: The time and space of transitional justice

Thomas Obel Hansen


Early transitional justice scholarship was premised on the notion that a window of opportunity was created by the transition itself, allowing nascent democracies to devise justice tools in order to remedy victims and to consolidate the new democratic order. Grounded in a merger of human rights advocacy and the ‘transition to democracy’ literature of the 1980s and 1990s, transitional justice scholars focused on how newly established democratic governments could use the ‘transitional moment’ to respond to the abuses committed by their repressive predecessors. In so doing, it was assumed that the transition presented both opportunities and limitations to the kind of justice that could be rendered. Since then, however, transitional justice scholarship has developed enormously. Notably, contemporary studies of transitional justice interrogate justice processes aimed at addressing human rights abuses and more broadly the roots of conflict in myriad situations not characterized by a liberalizing political transition and the State has come to be seen as only one among several relevant actors engaged in promoting and implementing transitional justice tools. This chapter argues that the move away from viewing transitional justice primarily as the response of a new democratic regime to the abuses committed by a past undemocratic and repressive regime raises profound questions for our understanding of what transitional justice is and what it can achieve, which have not been sufficiently explored in the scholarship. First, the chapter discusses the implications of transitional justice no longer necessarily being confined to a limited ‘window of opportunity’ in time. Second, the chapter discusses the ramifications of transitional justice no longer being reserved for periods of liberalizing political transition. Finally, the chapter examines the consequences of transitional justice occurring at other levels than the state level. Opportunity structures; liberal political transitions; internationalization of transitional justice

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