The implementation of Transitional Justice processes in Africa has taken on a wide array of forms, including international tribunals, the use of national courts, and truth commissions, and other traditional justice mechanisms and amnesties. Often in response to a wide range of political violence legacies, transitional justice was initially conceptualized as a state response to dealing with mass abuses in the context of a transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. In the African context, these mechanisms have been used to address the aftermath of civil wars, genocide, colonial legacies and other human rights challenges. While it is often touted as a panacea for all conflict-related challenges in the continent, and criticized for its limited symbolic applications, transitional justice in Africa remains understudied for its broader impact and underlying policy motivations – particularly across a large number of African countries operating in a milieu of competing interests.

It is within this context that the African Transitional Justice Comparative Study seeks to contribute to policy deliberations. The study presents a comparative analysis of 10 country case studies in Africa, where transitional justice mechanisms have been implemented. Mapping the range of processes in this field, the study will pay particular attention to transitional justice mechanisms employed between 1990 and 2010 to deepen understanding of how these processes were developed, and the role of their respective contributions to the prevention or recurrence of war and repression. Specifically, the study will examine the factors that shaped state policy decisions in framing the diverse set of responses to dealing with legacies of dictatorship, civil war and mass human rights abuses, and assess the consequences of these decisions for achieving sustainable peace and preventing future human rights abuses.

The Comparative Study fills a critical gap in research on comparative transitional justice as there have been no systematic comparative studies of a larger sample of African countries’ experiences of transitional justice. Through synthesizing qualitative and quantitative approaches to transitional justice, the study will provide a basis for understanding regional dynamics that shape these processes – including cultural similarities, regional influences (such as AU and bilateral relations) and geo-political issues (responses and resistance to colonial and “Western” neo-colonial legal norms).

The study will result in reports and presentations containing practical recommendations directed at key policy makers including those in the African Union, South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, donors involved in transitional justice funding, civil society, media and academia. It is envisioned that the study will contribute to the critical debates in African transitional justice and advance policies and measures for its robust implementation.

Key staff involved in the project are:
Hugo van der Merwe – Director of Research, Knowledge and Learning
Masana Ndinga – Senior Researcher
Caroline Huard - Intern