On transitional history

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


Since the early 1990s a significant number of countries in Africa have had experiences with transitional justice for mass atrocity violence. Mass prosecutions took place in Ethiopia and Rwanda, while atrocities in Sierra Leone, Chad and Central African Republic sparked special, hybrid courts. Simultaneously, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened investigations in ten African conflict ‘situations’. In many cases—i.e. Chad, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Central African Republic—(quasi) truth commissions predated, paralleled or followed these judicial responses. Each country dealt with history in one way or another, on their own terms and for their own reasons. In transitional justice, history—or events from the past—is background, middle ground and foreground; it is invoked or revoked, used or abused, narrated or untold, heard or silenced, written or unwritten, uncovered or covered. While establishing serviceable histories, doing transitional justice and writing history is often confused. This paper problematises, questions and assesses what the ‘tribunalisation’ and ‘commissioning’ of historical injustices have contributed to our empirical, historical knowledge about mass violence. Based on 17-years of first-hand observations of over 150 atrocity crimes trials, truth commission hearings and archival research, this paper critically debates the promises, pitfalls and problems of historical truth-seeking, truth-finding and truth ascertainment in transitional justice. By doing so, it animates a critical conversation about the relationship between transitional justice narratives about the past (‘Transitional History’), on the hand, and historical narratives, the historical record and historiography on the other hand.
Period29 Jul 2021
Event titleNarrating transitional justice: History, memory, poetics and politics
Event typeConference
LocationHamilton, CanadaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational