From Molehills to Mountains (and Myths?): A Critical History of Transitional Justice Advocacy

Padraig McAuliffe

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    At a time when transitional justice discourse is increasingly divided between advocates who celebrate its inherently progressive evolution and champion its constant expansion, and more agnostic theorists and practitioners who counsel against perceived utopianism and urge a more sceptical empirical assessment of the ever-greater claims made for its mechanisms, it is worthwhile examining how the phenomenon has developed in the years since its foundation in the late 1980s. In just over two decades, it has emerged from relatively circumscribed foundational debates over the efficacy of any accountability response in transitional societies to undergo an often bitter doctrinal ‘truth versus justice’ debate over best practice and on to the present-day’s extraordinarily assertive and quasi-hegemonic discourse absorbing and assimilating wildly divergent policies of peace-building, development and psychosocial therapeutics. As the field becomes a contradictory body of ideas, attitudes and practices to which only the title ‘transitional justice’ gives coherence, this constant revolution has stimulated an observable reaction among scholars and professionals who inveigh against the unjustified idealism that has hitherto characterised the field, and who counsel empirical assessment of the virtuous effects more easily presumed than proven. This article employs a critical, four-stage historical treatment of the interaction between advocacy and transitional politics. It concludes that transitional justice’s development is best understood not as an evolutionary process, but rather as a series of principled and evermore creative adaptations to still-pervasive political limitations. Its apparent utopianism might better be comprehended as the search for diverse and discrete heterotopias.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationFinnish Yearbook of International Law
    EditorsJan Klabbers
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherHart Publishing
    Number of pages82
    ISBN (Electronic)9781782250920
    ISBN (Print)9781849463492
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

    Publication series

    NameFinnish Yearbook of International Law


    • Transitional Justice
    • International Criminal Law
    • Truth Commissions
    • Restorative Justice
    • Human Rights


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