Transitional Justice: From Chaos To Order

A country emerging from a period of conflict must face the consequences of widespread or systematic human rights abuses. The ordinary justice system will often not be able to cope. Transitional justice steps in so that appropriate remedies can be found. In order to achieve this institutional reform is usually required. Finding redress for victims and filling the rule of law vacuum left after a conflict are the central focuses of transitional justice.


Truth, or fact, finding processes by non-judicial bodies plays an important role in the first steps of recognition of suffering. The recommendations of truth commissions or similar bodies may then contribute to criminal justice. Also, reparations and institutional reform. Here are some examples of their roles in the following countries:


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2002. It introduced a reparations programme which since 2007 has been run by National Commission for Social Action. The Government established it as the official agency for distributing reparations. In addition to this, on request of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the UN helped to establish The Special Court for Sierra Leone. This was done to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations during the conflict.


The Commission of Inquiry on Post-election Violence (the Waki Commission) and Independent Review of the Elections Commission were created in January 2008. They gave their recommendations in October of the same year. Some implementation of these recommendations has begun, including a new constitution adopted in 2010. The proposed creation of a special tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of post-election violence was defeated in Parliament.


In 2013, Tunisia’s parliament passed the Transitional Justice Law setting up a framework. It address violations committed between July 1955 and December 2013. This included the setting up of the Truth and Dignity Commission. This which is empowered to issue urgent reparations but mainly makes recommendations for reparations and institutional reforms. A specialised chambers was also created to pursue criminal prosecutions for specific past violations. This including deliberate killing, sexual violence, torture and execution without fair trial.


Often in a post-conflict country, organised criminal groups will be better resources than the local government and better armed than local law enforcement. However, restoring the legitimacy of national institutions is a long-term objective while redress for human rights and the restoration of the rule of law are urgent objectives. This often requires the involvement of external help from the UN. For example, where the country’s own civilian police are undertaking a process of reform. United Nations civilian police, although not empowered to carry out executive functions. Such as arrest and detention, can improve safety as simply the presence of law enforcement officials. This will reduce street looting, rape, robbery and murder.



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