Page: Transitional Justice

Transitional Justice: African Practices by Krista Jorstad

This article by Krista Jorstad attempts to define the character and practice of transitional justice in Africa. In general, transitional Justice refers to steps taken by a country to deal with the aftermath of a major civil conflict in the country. The article examines a number of such approaches, adopted by different countries in Africa, such as: the ?participatory? criminal trials in Rwanda (Gacaca Jurisdictions), the highly localized cleansing ceremonies in Mozambique, the healing customs for reconciliation in northern Uganda (mato oput) and the national truth-seeking testimony in South Africa. These customary practices draw upon traditions and do not essentially fit the description of transitional justice as understood in the West.

The article also seeks to identify what customary practices can be used in place of, Or in complementarity with, more common classical approaches to transitional justice such as were adopted following the end of the Second World War (Nuremburg trials) or which were imposed by the United Nations Security Council following the Genocide in Rwanda (ICTR) and the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Cambodia (UNAKRT). The concept of justice as mostly understood in the West presupposes individual culpability and consequent punishment of the wrongdoer, while the African approach seeks to discover the truth and promote community harmony and reconciliation.

Furthermore, the article seeks to identify the objective of using customary practices and raises questions of how such approaches can be reconciled with international legal obligations. It reviews several case studies of transitional justice in Africa referred to in the literature as cornerstone cases of alternative approaches to justice. While the review is not exhaustive the case studies illustrate how customary practices were structured in law and carried out in practice. The article explores in some depth, referencing policy, cultural and legal works on transitional justice, the core principles at the heart of transitional justice, emphasizing the challenge of balancing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the scheme of broader post-conflict policy and examines cases where international and customary definitions of justice conflict.

The article throws light to a complex subject and is recommended as a must read article to practitioners and policy makers in process of establishing mechanisms for dealing with the aftermath of massive violations of human rights in the course of civil strife.