Transitional Justice in the Absence of a Formal Transition

Panel Code
Closed Panel

In the past two decades, transitional justice (TJ) has emerged as the dominant paradigm to think about how societies can come to terms with legacies of large-scale violence and ensure accountability for crimes committed by predecessor regimes. Due to its popularity, the paradigm, concepts and logic of TJ are today increasingly applied in settings that can hardly be called post-conflict or post-authoritarian. This means that transitional justice is being recommended for countries that are still in the thralls of a violent conflict (like Syria) as well as countries that are commonly referred to as established democracies (like Belgium or Denmark). For both ends of the extreme, transitional justice offers inspiration, model mechanisms and institutions, or ideological guidance regarding how to initiate justice processes and foster good governance – often in the face of latent or violent conflict.
This turn to TJ principles in non-transitioning contexts, while not predicted, is understandable: some of the difficulties that wartorn societies, post-conflict countries and established democracies face are in several ways similar, especially when it comes to dynamics of polarization and othering, and the need for conflict transformation. Moreover, exchanging insights from TJ practice, allows for cross-contextual good practice learning and tapping into the wealth of learned experiences of (often South-based) countries that have much experience with the implementation of TJ initiatives.
This panel explores the opportunities for bi-directional lesson learning, i.e. how insights from non-transitioning societies enrich and improve existing TJ mechanisms. From an institutional and ideological perspective, the panel considers how the discourse of TJ can provide a flexible umbrella covering disparate, siloed fields of academic and policy-oriented inquiry, in order to facilitate sharing data and re-imagining policy approaches to (latent) conflict transformation in various settings. Likewise, the panel considers potential downfalls of transpositing TJ concepts to non-transitioning settings, where at both a conceptual and at a methodological level the mainstreaming of policies that were devised to be exceptional (such as amnesties or truth telling), might have unforeseen effects.
This panel is an attempt to explore both these opportunities and pitfalls from a conceptual, methodological and policy-oriented point of view.