What is Transitional Justice?

Transitional justice goes far beyond the court room, as its fundamental goal is to build sustainable, peaceful democracies through truth and reconciliation efforts.

Transitional justice refers to how nations deal with past human rights abuses within societies in transition and it has been placed at the centre of democratisation efforts by international organisations. Transitional justice can function as an effective facilitator of post-conflict reconciliation and stabilisation.

Today, it is frequently confused with international justice and criminal prosecution. However, as this project demonstrates, transitional justice has more far-reaching goals than simply the prosecution of perpetrators. Its fundamental aim is to build sustainable peace and assist during democratisation through social healing and reconciliation efforts.

According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, transitional justice approaches include:

  • bringing those responsible for past abuses to account through criminal prosecutions and non-judicial forms of inquiry (such as truth-seeking mechanisms);
  • providing reparations to victims and going some way to satisfying their needs;
  • transforming security systems, making them accountable for past violations and potentially removing human rights abusers from public institutions;
  • and reforming public institutions to prevent the repetition of past violations.


In addition, transitional justice includes a broad variety of truth-seeking mechanisms such as research initiatives, commissions and the creation of documentation centres. Transitional justice builds a path from previous human rights violations to stable and democratic regimes based on the rule of law.


Transitional Justice in the Former Yugoslavia


In the former Yugoslavia, the scale of human rights abuses has been predominantly established by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and later by local war crimes prosecutors.


According to the ICTY, more than 130,000 people lost their lives and over two million were displaced in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The need to account for past wrongdoing is immense given the contested nature of the conflict and ongoing disagreement about the causes and course of the wars.


Transitional justice efforts in the former Yugoslavia were initially slow and concentrated on war crimes prosecution. Extensive prosecutions have taken place in BiH at cantonal and district levels, as well as before the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina established in 2005.


In other former Yugoslav countries, progress has been much slower and faltering. Croatia established specialist chambers to deal with war crimes cases in 2003 and Serbia set up the War Crimes Chamber in the District Court of Belgrade the same year, but it has been facing many challenges such as witness intimidation.


Witness intimidation has been a particularly serious problem in Kosovo in relation to cases prosecuted by the ICTY and to investigations launched since 2000 by international prosecutors.


Recently, truth-seeking mechanisms beyond purely judicial bodies have been initiated in the region, such as local fact-finding centres, the regional truth-seeking commission REKOM, and several initiatives for various research and documentation centres.


Lustration and reparations have also been on domestic agendas, however, in all of these areas progress has been painfully slow.


It is, therefore, important to provide continuous media coverage of transitional justice efforts in former Yugoslav countries to inform the local and international public about achievements in this area.