Exploring Transitional Justice Mechanisms in Post-Conflict Societies”

Ntsikayezwe Yahya Fakude
6 min readOct 21, 2018

Throughout history, the global political landscape has been marked by incessant conflict and disparities, echoing the cries of marginalized ethnic groups striving for equality and basic rights. In today’s era of relative peace and prosperity, regions like Africa and the Middle East grapple with the complex transition from oppressive dictatorships to societies built on principles of freedom and equality. This struggle against systemic oppression has been pervasive, shaping the trajectory of many states within these regions. Therefore, this essay delves into the mechanisms of transitional justice, evaluates their effectiveness in fostering peace in post-conflict settings, and offers insights into this enduring dilemma.

What are Transitional Justice Mechanisms?

Many philosophers and academics define transitional justice as a framework aimed at addressing human rights violations during periods of interstate conflict or dictatorial rule. However, beyond its conceptualization, transitional justice embodies the creation of a societal space that allows communities deeply affected by violence and injustice to heal and progress. When properly implemented, these mechanisms serve as pillars for transparency, justice, and societal reconciliation in post-conflict environments. Nevertheless, critics, including the United Nations and various human rights organizations, contend that transitional justice initiatives can exacerbate social and cultural tensions in certain contexts. Nonetheless, when applied within state politics, transitional justice centers on accountability and the restitution of victims who have endured grave injustices. It demands a rigorous examination of state policies and prioritizes the dignity and rights of victims. Ultimately, by fostering accountability and prioritizing the needs of victims, transitional justice endeavors to pave the way for a society founded on principles of safety, equality, and freedom from violence.

Transitional Justice Mechanism in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) emerged as a transitional justice mechanism and quasi-judicial body in South Africa following the end of the Apartheid regime (Hallet, 2018). Often referred to as part of the “third wave of democratization,” a movement that gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s globally, its purpose was to establish new institutions to address the injustices and crimes committed by previous regimes (Allen, 1999). The primary objective of the TRC was to offer assistance and redress to individuals who had experienced violence or neglect under the National Party administration. Additionally, it provided perpetrators of violence with the opportunity to testify and seek amnesty from prosecution. This amnesty provision was deemed necessary by some analysts to prevent undermining the stability of South Africa’s fledgling democracy and to avoid exacerbating social divisions (Mamdami, 2002).

Formally established in 1995, the TRC aimed to promote social healing and national unity by uncovering the truth about human rights violations during the apartheid era (Tutu, 2018). The commission conducted various hearings, including individual and institutional examinations, to allow all citizens the opportunity to share their experiences. Institutional hearings featured testimonies from representatives of civil and state organizations, such as military officials, police, religious leaders, lawyers, and industrial workers (Hollinda, 2013).

According to international human rights law, the TRC operated based on two fundamental principles. Firstly, it operated traditional justice mechanisms in alignment with the willingness of its victims (“Transitional justice mechanisms — Real Rights Now”, 2018). Secondly, the commission operated in a capacity complementary to state justice mechanisms, rather than replacing them (“Transitional justice mechanisms — Real Rights Now”, 2018).

Successes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Facilitating the ‘Rainbow Nation’

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa remains one of the most celebrated reconciliatory proceedings of the 20th century. This is as a result of the fact that it brought all branches of South Africa’s society together in an attempt to not only rebuild the country but consolidate the project of creating a rainbow nation(“Apartheid in South Africa: How it Happened and Everything to Know”, 2018). Moreover, the South African TRC hearings attracted global attention as it was the first commission ever assembled to hold public hearings in which both victims and perpetrators where herd equally. This was however as a result of the fact that this process aimed to advance the cause of reconciliation, establish reliable institutions, improve access to justice for the most vulnerable populations as well as ensure no group was marginalized (Tutu,2012).Moreover, many individual who experienced the dimensions of the Apartheid praise this program as they believe the TRC was a platform which gave victims the opportunity to voice their suffering and pain in a way were it could be publicly acknowledged(Jardine,2000).In addition the TRC also gave victims information and closure regarding the whereabouts of missing loved ones .Advocates regarding the ideals of this commission do however assert that the effects of these hearings were long term and would later emerge as time progresses(The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa,2018).The TRC did however also play a crucial role in illustrating not only the populace of South Africa but other nations of the intercontinental community with regard to what mesures states should take in a post conflicted environment(Jardine,2000).

The Rainbow Nation in South Africa

The ‘rainbow nation’ is however a term first initially used by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe the social and interrelate milieu of South Africa post-apartheid. This expression was however developed in an attempt to establish unity and trust amongst an otherwise vulnerable and distrustful society. Nevertheless, as a consequence of South Africa’s diversity with regard to heritage and customs this term became associated with the foundations of multiculturalism for the populace of South Africa moving forward(“The Rainbow Nation — Dreams to Reality”, 2018). Furthermore, although Nelson Mandela also used this terminology as a metaphor to express the overcoming of divisions between the varying diverse ethnicities, racial identities and cultures race in South Africa even in today’s global epoch these phrase has become expressed in all aspects of the regions inter-state social and political facilitations(Martin,1996).This veracity can be noted due to the fact that in does 21st century this nation state has become one of the most diverse countries on the planet with a total of 11 offical national languages.


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