Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence

Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence

Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence

Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence


How do societies come to terms with the aftermath of genocide and mass violence, and how might the international community contribute to this process? Recently, transitional justice mechanisms such as tribunals and truth commissions have emerged as a favored means of redress. Transitional Justice, the first edited collection in anthropology focused directly on this issue, argues that, however well-intentioned, transitional justice needs to more deeply grapple with the complexities of global and transnational involvements and the local on-the-ground realities with which they intersect.Contributors consider what justice means and how it is negotiated in different localities where transitional justice efforts are underway after genocide and mass atrocity. They address a variety of mechanisms, among them, a memorial site in Bali, truth commissions in Argentina and Chile, First Nations treaty negotiations in Canada, violent youth groups in northern Nigeria, the murder of young women in post-conflict Guatemala, and the gacaca courts in Rwanda.


This book has an ambitious goal: to design outlines of the anthropology of transitional justice. Reading it brings insight into the complexities and complications that emerge when postconflict societies seek a path forward after mass violence.

As Alex Hinton points out, even if the area of transitional justice is still emerging, actors in this field have produced a broad range of reflections, tools, reviews, tentative theoretical approaches, and have used a combination of different disciplines, including history, law, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and religious studies. Moreover, institutions are being created and staffed by so-called transitional justice professionals, where courses are being organized and degrees awarded. Budgets are being allocated and new market niches are being developed, with the usual competition between institutions, including the export—sometimes imposition—of experts from north to south. Additionally, dialogue between theory and practice is being established, albeit with varying degrees of success.

In this context, and as this volume illustrates, the effort to analyze transitional justice from an anthropological perspective is not only useful but also indispensable. Transitional Justice demonstrates that we must analyze this field from multiple perspectives. Who conceptualizes, decides, defines, benefits from (and finances) the programs, projects, and strategies of transitional justice? What is the impact of transitional justice measures? and how is transitional justice perceived by different stakeholders? Such issues need to be analyzed on both the local and global levels—from a center-periphery perspective, from the vantage of victims and perpetrators, through the lens of gender, and from the vantage of different social institutions, power centers, and actors. Transitional justice also has to be studied temporally to discern long-term patterns and outcomes.

This collection shows that it is also important to deconstruct key concepts and to question the vocabulary used in this new field of expression, where we encounter quasi-redemptive terminology (the healing of a society), ontological terms (reconciling society), normative expressions (reestablishing the rule of law), ethical terms (reestablishing human dignity), legal terms . . .

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