Critical Legal Conference 2013

Deconstructing Transitional Justice

Stream Organiser: Catherine Turner (Durham Law School)

Transitional justice as a field of inquiry has, to date, been dominated by two approaches. The lawyers have adopted a doctrinal approach which has provided us with normative standards for justice in transition. The political scientists have adopted an empirical approach that seeks to measure the extent to which the normative standards set by the lawyers have been achieved, thus demonstrating “real world” impact to substantiate some of the foundational claims of transitional justice. These approaches to transitional justice represent a desire for a determinate standard of justice against which success can be measured. However, this approach introduces a polarized system of thinking about questions of justice in transition. The field itself is constructed around a number of binary oppositions. The most obvious of these is that of war and peace. This is the central organizing binary around which transitional justice discourses are constructed.  The assumption inherent in this is that we are moving from a state of war (violence) to a state of peace (law) and that these are two distinct states that can be easily distinguished from each other. This encourages rigid distinctions in how we think about transitional justice. It determines how and where we drawn the boundaries of the transitional space, to determine, for example who is to be considered a victim, who should face prosecution, and what mechanisms can be legitimately used to pursue transitional justice.

However doctrinal and empirical methods are less able to account for the complexity of transitional politics or address deeper question of the essential character of justice. This is where theory can help to encourage a more nuanced engagement with the concept of transitional justice and its goals.

This stream seeks papers that critically reflect on transitional justice, its aims, objectives and outcomes. Topics might include but are not limited to:

  • Taxonomies of violence, including the relationship between violence, law and justice intransition
  • The interplay between law and language in framing transition
  • The significance of the “good” and the “bad” victim
  • The gendered nature of transitional discourses
  • Concepts of acknowledgement, denial and forgiveness and their role in reconciliation
  • The role of democracy and/or human rights as legitimizing forces in transition
  • The essential character of justice

Please send paper abstracts of 300 words to Catherine Turner ( before the 15 June 2013 deadline.

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