chapter  27
27The Language of Transitional Justice
BySusan F. Hirsch
Pages 14

In the second half of the twentieth century, instances of horrific mass violence, such as state-sponsored genocides in Guatemala and Rwanda and civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, left survivors and the world community with the responsibility of responding to the “world’s worst crimes” while also rebuilding shattered lives and societies. Dated to the Nuremberg trials after World War II, transitional justice comprises legal and quasi-legal mechanisms of delivering justice after significant sociopolitical upheaval and violence, such as a period of dictatorship or political repression, civil or international war, or mass violence from another source (Minow 1998, Teitel 2000). A burgeoning set of practitioners, notably lawyers and NGO workers in postconflict settings, are prime movers of what is sometimes called the transitional justice industry. The study of transitional justice is a large and growing scholarly field, most often associated with political science, international relations, law, and sociolegal studies. The proliferation of multiple forms of transitional justice in the 1990s, including international tribunals, national trials, truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs), and a wide array of locally meaningful rituals and performances aimed at providing culturally relevant justice and reconciliation makes it both a relatively new phenomenon for anthropological study and one characterized by widely varying and emergent forms.