From Transitional to Transformative Justice: A New Agenda for Practice

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Transitional justice has become a globally dominant lens through which to approach states addressing legacies of a violent past. An industry of praxis has emerged, supported by dedicated NGOs and large-scale funding from Western donors. Yet, the performance and impact of transitional justice mechanisms has been at best ambiguous and at times disappointing. This article proposes a new agenda for practice, one that offers a concept of justice that is more ‘transformative’ than ‘transitional’. The article starts by setting out the limitations of transitional justice, and recent responses to these limitations in transitional justice practice. A distinction is made between foundational and secondary limitations. The former – the liberal peace and top-down, state-based approaches – remain largely unchallenged and condition the way in which practice evolves and responds to criticisms e.g. attempts to adopt more ‘holistic’ approaches or address socio-economic rights, As such, reforms encounter secondary limitations and fall short of transformative justice. A definition of transformative justice draws on this discussion as well as insights from related fields such as peacebuilding and conflict transformation - transformative justice is defined as transformative change that emphasises local agency and resources, the prioritization of process rather than pre-conceived outcomes, and the challenging of unequal and intersecting power relationships and structures of exclusion at both local and global levels. A final section of the article, on tools for transformative justice, provides practical guidance on how to implement a more transformative transitional justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-361
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Transitional Justice
Issue number3
Early online date14 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


  • structural violence
  • empowerment
  • participation
  • human rights
  • transformative justice

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