Re-Ordering Justice: Towards A New Methodological Approach to Studying Transitional Justice

Scholars and policymakers have turned increasing attention to questions of transitional justice, those legal responses to a former regime’s repressive acts following a change in political systems. Although there is a rich, interdisciplinary literature that addresses the value of various transitional justice measures, theoretical arguments for how and under what conditions we should expect to see these measures implemented tend to gravitate to intuitively appealing relative power considerations. But attempts at parsimony have tended to leave the dependent variable either overly restrictive or poorly defined, yielding theories that are difficult to test. In this article, the author proposes a “transitional justice spectrum” based on a hierarchical series of possible accountability mechanisms and designed to allow researchers to conduct more rigorous, cross-national tests of justice arguments. The objective here is not to posit a broad theory of transitional justice, but to open the debate into a methodological weakness in the transitional justice literature. The article includes seven accountability mechanisms: cessation and codification of human rights violations; condemnation of the old system; rehabilitation and compensation for victims; creation of a truth commission; purging human rights abusers from public function; criminal prosecution of executors (those lower on the chain-of-command); criminal prosecution of commanders (those higher on the chain-of-command).

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