Transitional Justice & Historical Redress

Transitional Justice & Histotical Redress is a special series of articles from the Leuven Institute of Criminology and Avocats Sans Frontières.


Historical truth and accountability
in the post-colonial state

Wednesday 14 December

Prof. Tine Destrooper & Dr. Cira Palli-Aspero

In the midst of a growing attention for issues related to historical injustices, several governments around the world have established historical commissions to inquire into their colonial pasts

How do parties negotiate decolonization? The case of Belgium

Thursday 2 February

Prof. Valérie Rosoux

Valérie Rosoux looks back on the experience of the Belgian Special Parliamentary Commission on the Colonial Past. In particular, she reflects on the role of emotions and intergenerational transmission of memory in negotiations on post-colonial legacies...

Transitional Justice:
Catalyst for revolutionary change?

Thursday 9 February

Noha Aboueldahab

Noha Aboueldahab, Assistant professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, examines how transitional justice has been mobilised in the Arab region as a means of resistance to colonial and neo-colonial injustices of the past and present...

A Window of opportunity to bring colonial legacies into view:
The case of Colombia

Thursday 16 February

Claire Wright, Bill Rolston & Fionnuala Ní Aoláin 

This blog post discusses how despite the Colombian peace accord’s generalised silence on colonialism, the transitional justice institutions which it gave rise to have sought to address the historical structures of exclusion stemming from Colombia’s colonial history...

Healing or harming?
The risks of colonial justice

Thursday 23 February

Kristen Parker

In this post, Kristen Parker, Adjunct Professor at Simmons University (USA), unpacks the shortcomings and risks of traditional definitions of truth and reconciliation in colonial contexts…

The Accra Summit and reparations for historical and contemporary racial violence

Thursday 2 March

Liliane Umubyeyi

In this post, Liliane Umubyeyi, co-founder of the African Futures Lab, highlights the importance of the Accra summit, which took place in August 2022, as an anchor for an Afrocentric dynamic of reparations for slavery and colonialism…

Historical redress through dialogue: grassroots can change the national conversation about Dutch slavery

Thursday 9 March

Nicole Immler & Niké Wentholt

In the absence of a coordinated national political response, grassroots and civic initiatives can play a key role in pushing for recognition and justice for the colonial past…

Transitional and Structural Justice:
The case of Australia

Thursday 16 March

Jennifer Balint & Nesam McMillan

Drawing on the Australian experience, Jennifer Balint and Nesam McMilan from the University of Melbourne critically reflect on the possibilities of bringing together transitional justice concepts and practices with settler colonial realities...

Dealing with colonial legacy through transitional justice: The case of Tunisia

Thursday 23 March

Sihem Bensedrine

On 18 July 2019, the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) addressed a memorandum to the President of the French Republic ‘concerning the reparation due to the Tunisian victims of the massive violations of human rights and economic and social rights’…

Transitional Justice 2.0 – How a Canadian compromise perpetuates colonial effects

Thursday 30 March

Selen Kazan

Drawing on the Canadian truth and reconciliation commission experience, Selen Kazan (TU Dortmund University) questions the impact transitional justice can have in challenging the status quo and the persistence of (neo)colonial dynamics in consolidated democracies

Theorizing Transitional Justice for the Colonial Past in Established Democracies: Conceptualizing Transition

Thursday 6 April

Magali Bessone

In transitional justice debates, the concept of “transition” is often elusive. Correctly assessing the meaning of transition is key to redefining transitional justice so that it can be usefully applied to evaluate whether so-called established democracies…

Namibian civil society and German reparations for the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples (1904-1908)

Thursday 20 April

Mutoy Mubiala

The issue of reparations for the Namibian genocide perpetrated by the German coloniser between 1904 and 1908 has been at the heart of civil society mobilisation for several decades.

The contributions to this special series examine some of the challenges and questions raised by the recent increase in initiatives looking to address historical injustices stemming from slavery and colonialism, especially in the wake ok the Black Lives Matter movement. Tentative processes are being put in place by former colonising countries. This has been most prominently the case in contexts of settler colonialism, possibly because of the lasting harmful legacies of colonialism and historical injustices continue to be more visible today in those countries. Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries all have, or are in the process, of setting up truth and reconciliation commissions to provide redress for harms caused to indigenous populations. In the US, calls have also been made to engage in some truth-telling and reparative process for slavery and racial violence.

More recently, we have also seen increased political debates around justice and redress measures for harms and colonial injustices in countries that were involved in exploitation and trade colonialism. The UK, for instance, has been engaged in legal claims and reparations negotiations over its repression of the Mai Mai insurgency in Kenya while Germany has negotiated a, much criticised, reparations agreement with Namibia over the Herero and Nama genocide. Various inquiry commissions have been set up in Belgium, France and the Netherlands to investigate the legacies of colonialism and to propose measures to redress these – often leading to heated controversies over the issue of reparations and apologies.

These developments have stimulated reflections, in both academic and policy circles, on the potential meaning(s) and roles that transitional justice can play in offering justice and redress for historical and enduring injustices which stem from colonial pasts. Traditionally, transitional justice has referred to a range of policies that countries that experienced armed conflicts or repressive rule use to address past human rights violations and injustices. Mobilising transitional justice as a response measure to colonial harms thus entails a broadening of the traditional boundaries of transitional justice, including envisioning its application in western countries and expanding conceptions of the ‘injustices’ and ‘responsibilities’ it seeks to address. It also requires a critical reflection on the extent to which transitional justice is itself embedded in postcolonial normative and political frameworks. Which can result in transitional justice perpetuating structural injustices and power imbalances rather than transforming them.

The contributions to this special series examine some of the challenges and questions this raises. In particular, they explore the adequacy of transitional justice as a framework for addressing the colonial past and what kind of justice model for historical redress transitional justice can offer. Drawing on experiences from a variety of countries, the articles question how effective well-established transitional justice mechanisms – truth commissions, reparations, trials, memorialisation, guarantees of non-recurrence – can be in pursuing justice and redress for historical and enduring injustices as well as in addressing intergenerational traumas inherited from colonialism. What emerges from these reflections is that while transitional justice can be useful for historical redress, they face political constraints (as has also been so commonly the case for transitional justice applied in more paradigmatic contexts) and requires a remodelling of transitional justice’s normative and ideological framings.

Solidarité internationale – Commune d’Etterbeek

This project is supported by the service Solidarité internationale de la commune d’Etterbeek.

Leuven Transitional Justice Blog

All articles of this special series will also be available on the Leuven Transitional Justice Blog.