Thursday, September 04, 2014

Transitional Justice and Displacement: The Way Forward

Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen

Increasing efforts have been taken to incorporate displacement into the transitional justice agenda. It is an acknowledged fact that transitional justice measures can support durable solutions. Bradley (2012) highlights this link as follows:
‘Displacement is intrinsically linked to the abuses transitional justice processes seek to address. Crimes such as torture, rape and the killing of friends and family are almost invariably followed by survivors’ flight, whether for weeks, years or generations. In some cases, forcing people to flee their homes represents a grave violation in its own right. And yet, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have often been relegated to the sidelines in efforts to deal with past injustices through measures such as trials, truth commissions, and restitution and compensation programs. Scores have been denied the opportunity to participate in transitional justice mechanisms, while others have found these processes to be out of step with their most pressing concerns. In recent years, however, transitional justice processes have increasingly opened up to the involvement of displaced persons, and have taken steps to address the crime of forced migration and the injustices at its root. From restitution efforts in the former Yugoslavia and Tajikistan to truth commissions in Timor-Leste and trials in the Hague, it is becoming increasingly clear that transitional justice can make a modest, contingent, but nonetheless significant contribution to upholding accountability and providing redress for forced migration and advancing solutions to the displacement of refugees and IDPs’.

Increasingly, academic have been focusing there attention to the links between transitional justice and displacement. Famous initiative on exploring this link has been the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. This has been a collaborative project between the International Center for Transitional Justice and Brookings-LSE Project. Organizations such as the Refugee Law Project at Makarere University in Kampala have been playing a leading role in investigating and advocating for the effective incorporation of displacement into transitional justice processes in Africa. Further, this has been an emerging topic at conferences such as the 15th IASFM Conference and the 25th IPRA Conference.

Initiative that intend to bride the relationship of transitional justice processes and displacement need to transform structural economic injustices with the consideration of the wider political, social, cultural, and judicial context. The success of such processes depends on the meaningful participation of refugees and IDPs—both men and women. Here the participation by the affected is needed to give a voice to the voiceless. This includes the various categories of the displaced which can effectively address structural injustices that lie at the core as a cause for their displacement. Hovil (2011) states as follows:
‘Neither transitional justice measures nor interventions to resolve displacement by themselves are likely to transform these structural injustices, but in addressing such issues they can a) avoid reinforcing them, b) contribute to long-term change, and c) draw attention to the need for broader reform efforts as well. In this regard, the resolution of displacement, particularly through return, presents both challenges and opportunities’. For example, ‘While women may become more vulnerable when they are forced to become heads of households in exile, it also provides opportunities for the redistribution of resources. A transitional justice framework might also facilitate a far more gender-aware and transformative approach to land restitution during reintegration’.

To sum up, it will be interesting to explore the link of transitional justice and displacement in terms of its space in research agendas. Bradley (2012) highlights, ‘To date, research at the crossroads of these fields has been characterized by remarkable collaboration across regions and disciplines, and between researchers and practitioners. As this agenda moves forward, it will be enriched by a continued commitment to this approach, and to the increased engagement of Southern scholars and critical voices in the debate, which can help ensure that the political interests and power dynamics that shape transitional justice processes are neither underestimated nor overlooked. Ultimately, the challenge is to ensure that the conceptual and empirical insights resulting from the continued evolution of this research agenda translate into the provision in practice of an increased measure of justice for the survivors of conflict and abuse, including those forced to flee their homes’.


Bradley, M. (2012). Critical Reflection: Forced Migration and Transitional Justice – Advancing the Research Agenda. Retrieved from Brookings Website
Hovil, L. (2013). The Nexus between Displacement and Transitional Justice: A Gender-Justice Dimension. Retrieved from

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