The Irreconcilable Goals of Transitional Justice
Abstract

Abstract:

The goals of transitional justice advocacy and institutions are commonly portrayed as mutually reinforcing and complementary. This article argues that in evaluating the political significance of transitional justice, more attention should be given to their irreconcilable goals. This analysis is informed by the work of legal scholars and political theorists that have drawn attention to the dual role of law in relation to violence. While law can be a tool for regulating violence and exposing abuses of power, law is also utilized to obfuscate and legitimate abuses of power. Similarly, transitional justice institutions aim to challenge the legitimacy of prior political practices by confronting denial and transforming the terms of debate on past abuses, yet they also seek to establish their own legitimacy by minimizing the challenge that they pose to dominant frameworks for interpreting the past. This article demonstrates how a better understanding of this tension sheds light on problematic assumptions and unacknowledged trade-offs associated with the claims regarding the role of transitional justice institutions in advancing political reconciliation through measures designed to counter denial, expand dialogue, and address trauma. It concludes by discussing the implications of the analysis for transitional justice policy as well as debates on the general significance of expanding transitional justice advocacy.