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A Scoping Study of Transitional Justice and Poverty Reduction


J Alexander  (2003)
64 pages (463.3KB)

In post-conflict developing countries, there is a frequent need to address human rights violations committed during the conflict period. The mechanisms used for this purpose include criminal and civil prosecution in domestic, foreign and international courts, traditional justice processes, truth commissions, lustration/ vetting, reparations and amnesties. These mechanisms are designed to achieve such goals as justice, reconciliation and peace. Do they also have the potential to contribute to the goal of poverty reduction?

This report for the Department for International Development (DFID) examines ‘transitional justice mechanisms’ (TJMs) employed in post-conflict situations, with reference to past and present examples. It explores the impact that TJMs may have on achieving poverty reduction as primary among the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Yet so far, poverty reduction has not been a stated aim of TJMs, limiting their impact on this goal. To fulfil their potential in reducing poverty, TJMs must go beyond their usual emphasis on civil and political rights to address violations of economic and social rights. Reparations for the economic and social consequences of human rights abuses should be prioritised. Through their impact on key conditions such as political and social stability, and by enhancing security and access to justice, TJMs can contribute indirectly to the goal of reducing poverty. More directly, they can help alleviate material disadvantage, exclusion and vulnerability.

To be effective TJMs must form part of a coherent overall strategy, meet clear and realistic objectives, and be relevant and legitimate to those they aim to assist. Analysis of TJMs in countries including Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone, South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala suggests that:

  • A combination of mechanisms may be necessary to produce the best results, but efforts must be made to avoid gaps, co-ordinate the TJMs smoothly and secure public understanding.
  • Many problems encountered by TJMs are caused by a lack of resources and time commitment. A long-term view is required and external oversight is essential to ensure accountability.
  • Transitional justice strategies must aim to conform to the relevant international legal standards, although some consideration may legitimately be given to the constraints of the post-conflict context.
  • Enforcement of the judgments, decisions and recommendations of TJMs is vital to their success. Where they fail, there is a risk that tensions will be exacerbated and the trust of victims in the state and/or international community will be diminished.

International involvement in transitional justice has increased in recent years and can directly or indirectly shape its design and implementation. Therefore, it can also help boost the role of TJMs in reducing poverty. To achieve the best results:

  • International intervention should aim to complement domestic transitional justice initiatives where possible, develop national capacity and increase accountability.
  • Relating TJMs to poverty reduction may favour particular forms of justice that bring individuals back into economic activity, including reparations for victims or community service for perpetrators.
  • More attention should be paid to the perspectives of victims, with a greater focus on vulnerable groups that make up most of the world’s poor: women, children, older people and the displaced.

Source: Alexander, J., 2003, 'A Scoping Study of Transitional Justice and Poverty Reduction', Final Report for Department for International Development (DFID), London.

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