Continuities of violence: what role for transitional justice and the rule of law?

Author:Salazar, Katya

This panel was convened at 12:45 pm, Friday, April 11, by its moderator, Loma McGregor of the University of Essex, who introduced the panelists: Catherine O'Rourke of the Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster; Colette Rausch of the U.S. Institute of Peace; Katya Salazar of the Due Process of Law Foundation; and Julie Werbel of USAID. *


This panel explored a number of compelling issues in transitional justice (TJ) and rule of law (RoL) initiatives. Professor Loma McGregor from the University of Essex served as moderator for the panel. She helped to frame the tenor of the conversation by asking probing questions of the panelists and the audience members. In particular, she queried whether it was the job of TJ and the RoL to deal with newer forms of violence or "ordinary crime." Professor McGregor sought clarification on what was required of TJ and the RoL as fields, if the answer to this question was in the affirmative. Some elements in her comments resonated with concerns in the literature about the ever-expanding fields of TJ and RoL, which are criticized for becoming so broad that they include everything and nothing at the same time.

Ms. Colette Rausch, from the U.S. Institute of Peace, discussed some of the underlying assumptions in the fields of TJ and RoL that have led to difficulties. She discussed how the traditional focus of RoL efforts on institution-building and forward-looking initiatives, while TJ deals with backward-looking initiatives, was an inadequate model. She argued that this dichotomy was not working in practice because following conflicts, violence continues in many different forms--with structures of violence remaining in place, morphing to organized crime, or repeating similar patterns of human rights abuses. Ms. Rausch criticized both fields for only focusing on limited aspects of violence because the underlying causes of grievances continue and manifest themselves in present-day violence. She contended that in societies traumatized by violence, it is imperative to be mindful of the fact that the past is always in the present, and that power structures and spoilers often do not want a successful transition. She recommended that instead of practitioners continuing to work in silos (which only nibbles at the edges of problems), a more dynamic and systems approach needed to be adopted. Such an approach would pay attention to economic, social, political, historical, and legal factors that drive conflict and would entail taking a step back to look at chronic and continued violence and query why certain patterns of violence persist in an effort to identify the root causes of...

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