Transitional Justice and Reconciliation: Theory and Practice




Fischer, Martina

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Berghof Foundation


This article explores the concept of transitional justice and its role in debates on democratization, nation-building and state reconstruction and its relation to reconciliation, both of which have become increasingly popular. Many researchers and practitioners see reconciliation as a necessary requirement for lasting peace, assuming that once a top-down political settlement has been reached, a bottom-up process should take place, in which unresolved issues of the conflict will be handled in order to prevent questioning of the settlement and a return to violence. In this context, coming to terms with the past is considered a precondition for building peace and future relationships. This chapter reviews the debates on transitional justice and reconciliation in order to assess the practical approaches that stem from these concepts in terms of their relevance for conflict transformation and peacebuilding. It also analyzes the state of research on international criminal justice and truth commissions and highlights the strengths and limits of these approaches. The author also notes that the debates on transitional justice and reconciliation, although they overlap, are not identical, and she outlines the need to see reconciliation as a multi-level process alongside conflict transformation. The chapter concludes by highlighting diverse challenges for research and practice, including a need to focus on the interaction of different actors, levels and mechanisms and to listen to the voices of affected populations.



Transitional Justice, Conflict Transformation, Reconciliation, Political Settlement