Project on Transitional Justice

Paul van Zyl introduces speakers at the Annual Transitional Justice lecture.

CHRGJ’s Project on Transitional Justice brings together teaching, research, conferences, and student field work on criminal trials, truth commissions, institutional reform and reparations programs in transitional democracies, ranging from East Timor and Iraq to Sierra Leone and Peru and, most recently, those countries impacted by the “Arab Spring.”

The Director of the Center’s Project on Transitional Justice is Pablo de Greiff, who concurrently serves as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. From 2001-2014, Dr. de Greiff was Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), which is one of CHRGJ’s key partner organizations.

The Center undertakes a number of activities in this area:

The Project on Transitional Justice includes two seminar courses which examine both the conceptual underpinnings of this field and advanced issues in transitional justice.

The ICTJ video,  ‘The Case for Justice’ contributes to a better understanding of why transitional justice is crucial in the aftermath of massive human rights violations. The videos feature voices of activists and experts from across the world who explore issues and myths around transitional justice in the current moment in time.

All LL.M. applicants have the opportunity to apply for a program that will enable them to focus their studies on the issues surrounding transitional justice: the Transitional Justice Leadership Program. Transitional Justice Scholars are guaranteed enrollment in the two courses that comprise the classroom component of the Project. This rigorous academic exercise will be complemented with the opportunity to undertake internships during the academic year. As an additional benefit, upon completion of the LL.M. degree, scholars will receive unpaid internship placement assistance with a variety of transitional justice institutions.

The Center offers a comprehensive range of transitional justice fellowships, which enable students to undertake research and fieldwork on criminal trials, truth commissions, institutional reform and reparations programs in transitional democracies.

The Center has enriched the field of transitional justice by exploring new ways to address the dilemma of how to deal with past human rights violations. The Center encourages original scholarship on transitional justice topics and invites students to present their work at its competitive Annual Emerging Human Rights Scholarship Conference, where they have the opportunity to receive feedback from human rights experts, in anticipation of publishing their work.

Hossam Baghat, David Tolbert, Helen Clarke, and Philip Alston at the 2011 Annual TJ Lecture.

In collaboration with the ICTJ, the Center also hosts the Annual Transitional Justice Lecture, which provides a prominent platform for distinguished persons working on transitional justice issues to deliver a scholarly paper on important developments in the field. Past speakers have included Prof. José Zalaquett, who delivered the inaugural Annual Lecture; the  U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour; the current President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; President emeritus of the Open Society Institute, Aryeh Neier, among others.

To view the 2011-12 Transitional Justice Lecture, featuring a conversation between Hossam Baghat and Helen Clarke, please click HERE.


The Sixth Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice (Nov 14, 2011)

(Text reproduced with permission from ICTJ’s website)

“Egyptians are not only after food, they want the full rights that they have struggled for,” said Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights. His assertion was directed at the trend in which trials of key figures from former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime have mainly focused on corruption charges and largely ignored human rights violations. This, Tawab insisted, was the military’s attempt to show that the revolution in Egypt was about corruption and not much else.

In contrast to Tawab’s call for justice to be an integral element of the transition from dictatorship to democracy, some respected analysts have maintained that the people of the region need development first and that justice should come later.

In an extended analysis of the aftermath of Mubarak’s downfall published in April, David Reiff writes: “The most relevant fact for the majority of the inhabitants of countries like Egypt and Tunisia is not that they have been governed by tyrants but that they live in crushing poverty…that has grown progressively worse for at least the bottom two deciles of the population over the past 20 years. Abolishing Mubarak’s party, confiscating its funds, and even putting him, his sons, and his cronies on trial will literally do nothing to alleviate this.”

Reiff argues that if the Arab democracy activists and their supporters do not put jobs and health care at the center of their approach—attaching at least as much importance to these as political reform and justice—the revolutionary spirit of the Arab Spring will be replaced by discontent.

Variants of this line of thought also run in the opposite direction: “Let justice be done, even if the sky falls.” Justice promoters have had little to say about stability and development, perhaps protected by the purity of the defense of justice.

“It is not by mere coincidence that thwarted development, insecurity and injustice frequently occur together,” says ICTJ Director of Research, Pablo de Greiff. “Tyranny and profiteering have been historical bedfellows, as the frozen bank accounts of Ben Ali and Mubarak clearly demonstrate. In the region, however, the combination of education, communication, and demographics made the partnership particularly obnoxious.”

De Greiff asserts that security, justice and development are closely related. “The World Bank, in its last World Development Report on Conflict, Security, and Development, has caught up with this view. It insists that the way to avoid conflict or to emerge from it depends not just on security, not just on jobs and not merely on justice, but in making gains on all three fronts.”

Philip Alston engages Helen Clarke and Hossam Baghat in conversation at the 2011 TJ Lecture.

Recognizing the need to further explore the links between justice and development in the context of historic changes sweeping the Arab world, ICTJ and the CHRGJ have focused the 2011-12 annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice on the dilemmas presented here.

Hossam Bahgat, chairman of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and one of prominent leaders of the popular revolution in Egypt, and Helen Clark, head of United Nations Development Program, and will participate in a lecture that traditionally brings leading international figures to explore cutting edge issues in transitional justice.