Transitional Justice in the 21st Century

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

David Tolbert is a George Soros Visiting Chair at DPP

Course Description:

This course provides an introduction to the concept and development of transitional justice (‘TJ’), including the principal justice mechanisms developed and implemented by some countries following massive human rights abuses and/or armed conflict.  These processes include a number of special measures, notably truth commissions, specialized criminal courts (often with the deployment of international judges, prosecutors and staff), reparations processes and reforms (e.g. vetting out of human rights violators from law enforcement and the military, the adoption of constitutional protections).  Broadly speaking, these processes are based on principles of accountability and redress and ultimately aim to assist rebuilding trust in institutions and between citizens and the state. TJ is grounded in modern human rights law.

This course offers an overview of the actors, organizations, countries and institutions in the field of transitional justice, particularly policy developments in the United Nations and other intergovernmental (e.g., EU) institutions. It will look at some of the most recent trends and developments in the TJ field and the criticisms that are made of transitional justice processes, both in practice and on a theoretical basis. The course is intended to provide a platform on which further, more specialized, studies can be carried out, particularly in the area of policy.

Learning Outcomes: 

After the successful completion of the course, the students should be able to:

  • Recognize the main actors and policy challenges in the TJ field;
  • Analyze and explain the dynamics shaping TJ both on the ground in countries and in policy circles and related contexts;
  • Understand and critically assess TJ policies and implementation of TJ processes;
  • Develop, or participate in, work aiming at developing alternative solutions to specific justice issues and problems;
  • Critically assess arguments/material that put forward various propositions relating to TJ and its development;
  • Assess the role TJ might or might not play in the current global political climate.

The students will be assessed according to the combination of the following criteria:

  • Class participation and pre-session assignments: 40%

Students will be expected to fulfil pre-session assignments as listed in the course schedule. The pre-session assignments can include the requirement to read the mandatory readings and be ready to discuss them during the sessions, identify specific materials or develop short presentations on a topic relevant for the session, and also review, comment, or participate in online discussion posted to the course’s e-learning site.

  • Policy brief and literature review: 20%

Each student will need to prepare and present a short policy brief, including a related literature review. This could be about an organization/institution, a specific policy area or situation, an emerging trend. The brief should include a review of relevant scholarly literature based on 5-7 research articles or studies. Students can propose their own topics in discussion with the instructor. The policy briefs are expected to be about 2000 words long and need to be handed in before session 6. Each student will have about 20 minutes during classes 6 and 7 to present their work to the class. 

  • Final project: 40%

Students, either individually or in a group, will choose a policy topic which will be presented orally during classes 10 and 11 and as a final written report (3500-4000 words) that is to be handed in after the course ends (specific date will be defined during class).  It will involve approaching a past or present situation regarding a country going through a transition and must include elements of a policy proposal. That is, it should contain a clear problem(s) definition, based on secondary (i.e. literature) and/or primary data drawn from sources or interviews for example. Based on the problem(s) definition several policy solutions formulated and assessed according to different criteria. After identifying the best policy solution, the paper should elaborate on the mechanisms/instruments by which it could be implemented.


There are no prerequisites for this course.