Political Research Exchange

Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Role of Transitional Justice in the Prevention of Violence and the Establishment of Peace

Human Rights
Transitional States
Section Number
Section Chair
Carles Fernández Torné
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Section Co-Chairs
Briony Jones
University of Warwick
Julie Bernath
University of Basel

One of the logics of transitional justice advocacy and practice is that a reckoning with a past of large scale human rights violations will contribute to a future of peace. Scholars have grappled with the question of impact and more recently that of prevention. There is an inherent tension in the expectations generated by a primarily backward looking set of interventions, designed to address past violations. This tension arises because of a set of assumptions, expectations and claims that such activities will be able to contribute to social and political changes and lead to peace. Indeed, much of the ‘industry’ of transitional justice, which includes budgets and a flow of resources, requires this logic to hold.

Scholarly engagement with the intersection between transitional justice and conflict prevention is certainly increasing. However, we still know very little about causal relationships between the two, or about how interventions could be designed to take account of the potential synergies. These gaps and challenges relate to debates over whether punishment can have a preventative effect, whether peace and justice goals are compatible, and whether short-term transitional justice interventions are being overloaded with expectations over longer-term change. It is clear from the literature that in theory transitional justice and conflict prevention are connected, and that transitional justice could contribute to conflict prevention. Where the literature is now moving is towards case studies and an evidence base which can tell us more about what this means in practice and how policy-making can respond.

In the Panels which form this Section we will look afresh at the question of the forward looking capacities of transitional justice; at what claims can be made about its impacts, theories of change underpinning the transitional justice discourse, and its potential to prevent violations and establish a peaceful future. Panels will examine the contribution of transitional justice mechanisms to the prevention of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and their recurrence. Among these mechanisms, Panels will explore the contribution of tribunals (international, national or mixed) and truth commissions to prevent violations.

But beyond tribunals and truth commissions, the Section also explores research on guarantees of non-recurrence (GNR). GNR are, primarily, forward-looking interventions with the potential of contributing to prevent future violations. The Special Rapporteur (SR) on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence has classified GNR as interventions at the level of official State institutions (such as security sector reform, legal, judicial or constitutional reform); interventions to strengthen civil society in order to increase its preventive role; and interventions in the cultural and individual spheres (such as the preventive role of education, arts and other cultural interventions, including memorialization and museums, and investments in archives and documentation reforms).

Finally, the Section Co-Chairs wish to encourage early career as well as established scholars to participate in ECPR General Conferences and Workshops. This Section aims to place scholars at different stages of their career in conversation with each other, in order to encourage, inspire and challenge a new generation of political scientists.

Panel List

P010Actors and Victims' Agency View Panel Details
P051Change in Transitional Justice. New Ways of Locating, Understanding and Measuring Change in Transitional Contexts View Panel Details
P453The Impact of Human Rights Trials and Accountability: Insights from European, and Latin American Post-Conflict Societies View Panel Details
P497Transitional Justice and Peace View Panel Details
P498Transitional Justice and the Role of Civil Society in Preventing Violations View Panel Details
P499Transitional Justice as Prevention View Panel Details
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