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Transitional Justice




Admissions requirements

One of the following (or both):
International Humanitarian Law,
International and Regional Human Rights.


Societies that come out of war, dictatorship or other large-scale conflict have to find a way to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses. As the Second World War ended, the Allies set up tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo to hold to account those responsible for some of the most serious wartime crimes. As white minority rule gave way to multi-party democracy in South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up so that the history of apartheid be documented and the victims be given a voice. In 2015, the government of Colombia and the FARC rebel group agreed to establish a special jurisdiction within the country’s courts to try alleged crimes committed as part of the protracted civil war, to be operating alongside a truth commission.

How do societies that emerge from large-scale conflict address the legacy of violence, and to what effect? In this course we examine these questions, investigating a variety of cases and drawing on a vast literature spanning political science, international criminal justice, social psychology, sociology, history, philosophy as well as other fields.

Part I: Logics and mechanisms of transitional justice

  • What is transitional justice and what does it aim at?

  • Criminal prosecutions

  • Retributive vs. restorative justice

  • Truth commissions

  • Amnesty laws

  • Reparations and public apologies

  • Memorials

  • Vetting and other institutional reforms

Part II: How are the mechanisms combined?

  • Trials and amnesties

  • Truth commissions and amnesties

  • Trials and truth commissions

  • Other combinations

Part III: Cross-cutting themes

  • Whose justice?

  • Impact of transitional justice between law and politics.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to enable students who actively engage with the material, to:

  • Compare and contrast various ways in which societies in transition deal with a legacy of human rights violations,

  • Assess strengths and weaknesses of different mechanisms of transitional justice,

  • Explain dilemmas and trade-offs faced by societies that come out of a history of armed conflict and/or authoritarian rule, and

  • Apply terms and ideas that are central in the transitional justice field to real-world settings and problems.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The 14 seminars will be distinctly interactive, with readings to be discussed in plenary and smaller groups. Once in the course, you will be part of a group of 3-4 students who will present a reading in class and write a brief joint response paper about it. Students will also be expected to participate by reflecting on what you learn in the course and on your own learning process in an individual online journal. By the end of the course an essay will be due; an associated plan for it will be expected in Week 4.

In class in Weeks 5 and 6, students will simulate a series of negotiations related to an ongoing civil war. The negotiations will be imagined to form part of a process of peace talks, and your task will be to try to reach an agreement on the specific agenda concerned with how to deal with the past. The civil war in focus will either be a fictional one, or a case selected from among the ongoing civil wars in the world when the course is held. Each student will play a role as representative either of one of the parties to the war, one of its domestic stakeholders, or a relevant external actor. The aim will be to work out a plan for transitional justice for implementation after the war’s end that all the parties to the war will be willing to agree to commit to.


  • Joint response paper and presentation (Weeks 2-4 of course; 10%),

  • Essay plan (due Week 4; 10%),

  • Transitional justice negotiations (Weeks 5-6): participation (15%) and position paper (due Week 7; 15%),

  • Individual journal (due Week 7; 10%),

  • Essay (due Week 8; 40%).


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Readings will be made available upon commencement of the course.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr Ingrid Samset