Interrogating the ethics of transitional justice: transforming or maintaining inequalities? Reflections from Colombia

Muirhead 118
Wednesday 7 March 2018 (15:15-17:00)

Dr Sanne Weber (University of Birmingham)

Dr Weber is a Research Fellow in the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham. Her research explores how conflict affects gender relations.

She is interested in understanding whether and how transitional justice mechanisms are capable of transforming gendered and other structural inequalities, engaging with the connections between conflict, development and social justice. She is interested in the use of participatory and creative research methods to understand the lived experiences of conflict survivors, and explore how transitional justice can better respond to their needs.


Transitional justice refers to a set of measures, including truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition, aimed to address large-scale and serious human rights abuses in states that move on towards democracy. Based on the Western paradigm of human rights, transitional justice employs a universalising discourse of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is however becoming increasingly clear that in contrast to long-held assumptions, transitional justice does not automatically lead to peace, reconciliation and civic trust. My research engages with several of the critiques of transitional justice. It analyses how the essentialised and gendered understandings of victimhood and violence which underpin transitional justice prevent it from transforming the underlying inequalities that produce conflict. Instead, by maintaining or even reinforcing those inequalities, it risks becoming a tool to legitimise states implementing and promoting transitional justice while maintaining the status quo. I analyse these questions in the light of Colombia’s 2011 Victims’ Law, an ambitious and ongoing transitional justice process from which many lessons can be learnt.

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