Transitional Justice

The Rule of Law Center has shaped the field of "transitional justice" through research that examines these issues in comparative perspective, publications, grant-funded work, and substantive policy advice.

Elements of this work include:

  • Assistance and advice to individuals, organizations, and governments working on transitional justice issues around the globe. ROL has responded to requests for materials or assistance on this topic from over 20 countries, including South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Guatemala, the Czech Republic, and Afghanistan.
  • Ongoing research, consultation, and workshops focusing on such issues as a comparative analysis of transitional justice in several nations, compensation of victims, the use of non-criminal sanctions to deal with past abuses, and the relationships between truth commissions, international tribunals, national trials, and amnesty programs. In 1995, the Institute published Transitional Justice: How Emerging Democracies Reckon with Former Regimes, a three-volume collection edited by Neil J. Kritz that brings together the collective experience of numerous countries and cultures over the past 50 years.
  • A documentary film on truth commissions that shows how countries that have experienced massive human rights violations have sought to address the legacy of the past. Since 1983, truth commissions have been established in over 20 countries, in all parts of the world. Confronting The Truth documents the work of truth commissions in South Africa, Peru, East Timor, and Morocco. Taking testimony from victims and perpetrators, and conducting detailed investigations, truth commissions create a historical record of abuses that have often remained secret. They also identify patterns of abuse, and the structural and institutional weaknesses, societal and cultural problems, and weak legal systems that made the violations possible.
  • Developing options to pursue transitional justice in Iraq, including approaches to de-Ba'athification, the development of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, and the development of materials to facilitate discussion of truth and reconciliation processes. In March 2004, the Institute, in cooperation with the Institute for International Criminal Investigation, convened a conference in Amsterdam that brought together Iraqis involved in establishing the tribunal with experts on international criminal law and on the practical operations of special tribunals from nine countries. A Special Report based on the principal views and insights shared at the conference was released in June 2004.
  • Afghanistan: USIP is working with the Afghan government, the United Nations, international donors and NGOs to develop policy recommendations for ensuring that candidates with links to illegal armed groups are not permitted to run for office in Afghanistan's next elections. USIP is also working with international and national NGOs to develop sound documentation practices that will enable victims to exercise their right to learn the truth about past human rights abuses. Recognizing the central importance of Islam in Afghan life, USIP works with Islamic institutions and legal scholars to develop thinking about how Islamic legal principles address the rights to knowledge, accountability, compensation, and forgiveness in relation to mass abuse. And through its Grants Program, USIP provides funds to local Afghan organizations to implement their own innovative ideas for how to mobilize grass roots constituencies to express their demands for justice.
  • Nepal: In response to the need for more information on international practices and experiences about transitional justice, USIP organized a series of roundtable sessions in Nepal in July 2007 to discuss transitional justice options pursued by other countries after conflict. Based on its consultations, USIP contributed technical advice to the government on its draft truth commission legislation, and will continue to do so as the process of designing the commission moves forward. USIP has produced a Nepali-language version of its new documentary, Confronting the Truth. As the government conducts it own nationwide consultations on attitudes toward a truth commission, USIP will work with Nepali partner organizations to foster discussion on how experiences with truth commissions in other countries may inform Nepal's own truth and reconciliation commission planning process. A report was produced as a result of these efforts, titled Transitional Justice in Nepal: A Look at the International Experience of Truth Commissions (USIPeace Briefing, September 2007).
  • Uganda: At the urging of the Ugandan government, a USIP delegation visited Uganda in December 2007 to conduct consultations with a wide range of stakeholders regarding the justice mechanisms outlined in the recently negotiated agreement to conclude the 20-year civil war in Northern Uganda. The delegation met with government officials and negotiators, the LRA negotiating team, judges and other legal officials, the chairman of the Amnesty Commission, civil society organizations, religious and tribal leaders, members of the chief mediator's team for the talks, and victims of the conflict, in Kampala and in Gulu. USIP remains engaged in providing advice and analysis of the Ugandan justice situation as the results of the peace negotiations unfold. Read more about these efforts: The Justice Dilemma in Uganda (USIPeace Briefing, February 2008).
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: ROL provided advice on forming a national truth and reconciliation commission, which would complement international and national war crimes trials and help lay to rest radically divergent claims regarding abuses committed against members of different ethnic groups during the war, which remain a source of significant tension in the country. At the request of the speaker and deputy speakers of the Bosnian parliament, Neil Kritz also served as facilitator and technical resource for eight-party talks on the subject over a period of several months. In addition, as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) began to transfer cases to a newly established state-level War Crimes Chamber, ROL facilitated outreach meetings for judges and prosecutors of the chamber with victims groups and members of civil society to develop an understanding of both the potential and limitations of criminal justice in redressing war abuses, and to stimulate discussion about complementary mechanisms to the Chamber.
  • Hosting meetings on the Special Court for Sierra Leone and on the country’s truth and reconciliation commission. Neil Kritz served on a UN panel of experts to develop guidelines for the relationship between these two bodies.
  • Truth Commission Digital Collection: USIP maintains an extensive online collection of information regarding truth commissions and commissions of inquiry in countries around the world, including descriptions of the commissions, as well as the original statutes creating these bodies and the reports produced by them.