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 7: Transitional justice and 'local' justice

Dustin N. Sharp


In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the possibilities of using ‘local’, ‘traditional’ or ‘non-Western’ modalities of dispute resolution, reconciliation, truth-telling and retributive justice to address legacies of large-scale atrocity and abuse. While such initiatives have at times been innovative, they have also generated many controversies. For example, local or traditional justice and reconciliation practices may clash with international human rights standards; they may be ill adapted for the context of mass atrocities that spill over porous borders of culture and the nation state; they may be imposed on local communities much like any other post-conflict justice initiative; and they are often filtered through the prism of local politics and historic power disparities, creating the potential to be more repressive than emancipatory. This chapter will explore the general promises and pitfalls of such tradition-based initiatives, using experiences from Rwanda, Uganda and East Timor as examples. I argue that we must be careful not to romanticize local justice; yet at the same time, transitional justice scholars, practitioners and policy-makers ignore local preferences and conceptions of justice at their peril. While greater use of local modalities of justice will require a fairly robust ‘margin of appreciation’ and acceptance of a degree of legal pluralism that may make some international human rights lawyers uncomfortable, striking a better balance between global and local modalities of justice is ultimately required if we are to make transitional justice into more of a true global project. Local justice; traditional justice; global–local balance

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