Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)
Societies that have experienced violent conflict face considerable challenges in building sustainable peace. One crucial question they need to address is how to deal with their violent past and atrocities that were committed – for example, whether perpetrators should be held accountable by judicial means, or whether the focus should be laid on truth telling and the compensation of victims. Transitional justice (TJ) offers a range of instruments that aim to help societies come to terms with their history of violent conflict. Systematic, empirical analyses of TJ instruments have been emerging over the last years. This Briefing Paper summarises the policy-relevant insights they provide regarding the main TJ instruments: trials; truth commissions; reparations for victims; and amnesties. Reviewing academic literature on the effects of transitional justice in post-conflict contexts, three main messages emerge:
Initial evidence suggests that transitional justice can help to foster peace. Contrary to concerns that actively dealing with the past may deepen societal divisions and cause renewed conflict, most statistical studies find either positive effects or no effects of the various instruments on peace.
Reviewing the literature also makes clear that important, open questions remain:
Can transitional justice contribute to a deeper quality of peace that goes beyond the absence of violence? TJ should be able to foster reconciliation and mend broken societal relationships. However, if and how TJ can affect social cohesion after conflict needs to be better understood.