What is Transitional Justice?

Transitional justice is a range of mechanisms designed to address the legacy of massive human rights abuses in societies emerging from long periods of conflict or totalitarian rule.

At its core is the recognition that those who have been most affected by abuses should be the ones who guide the processes and design the remedies. This bottom-up approach, stands in contrast to the top-down approach of powerful political actors negotiating solutions, which may come at the expense of speaking truth to power.

Transitional justice seeks restorative justice, seeing the need to empower victims as they move forward into the future.

Restorative justice can also include holding those responsible for abuses accountable. Criminal prosecutions can be designed to target perpetrators who carried out abuses, and also leaders at the highest level who bear responsibility for the scale and structure under which the abuses took place. In transitional societies around the world combinations of prosecutions, truth telling and amnesty have been combined to meet victims demands for justice.

While the mechanisms are different in each context, they typically include a combination of criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparation programs, institutional reforms and memorialization efforts.

What does a transition look like?

The United Nations Development Programme describes Transitional justice thus:

In the aftermath of large-scale violence, conflict or political upheaval, societies must be enabled to address grievances and human rights abuses. Nationally led transitional justice processes contribute to atonement for human rights violations and can facilitate state accountability. These practices help to establish trust and set the conditions for a peaceful democratic governance, and at the same time prevent societies from relapsing into systematic discrimination or violence.

Read more on their website here.