Since the turn of the century, the practice and discipline of transitional justice has spread as an effort to apportion justice in times of transition from conflict or state repression. According to the International Centre for Transitional Justice – a global non-governmental organisation based in New York – the term refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. They all aim to bring perpetrators to account, while at the same time provide recognition of the rights of, and redress through reparations for, the victims. Transitional justice also seeks to promote trust across societies, and the strengthening of the democratic rule of law so as to avoid repeats in the future.
Moreover, the evolution of transitional justice as a social science discipline has enabled research to shed light on some of the previously under-explored impact of legacies of conflict and violence.
What scholars have identified however is that in post-conflict situations there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The transition from conflict is always a unique experience, and the challenges faced by each country are always greater than expected. Transitions provide an opportunity for change i.e. for the establishment of modern democratic structures, however there is also the potential for the consolidation of old power structures.
Civil society has a very important role to play in transitional justice processes. Indeed, it is from civil society that much of the input towards transitional justice comes from. The International Day of the Disappeared, celebrated every year on August 30, was the result of efforts by the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of Detained-Disappeared, a non-governmental organisation founded in 1981 in Costa Rica that brought together local and regional groups working against state practices such as arbitrary imprisonment and enforced disappearances in Latin America.