538.01 Transitional Justice

This 2-credit seminar will provide an introduction to the field of “transitional justice,” which refers to a broad range of processes and mechanisms that have been developed to respond to major violations of human rights that often occur during armed conflicts, under the rule of authoritarian regimes, or in divided societies where a dominant ethnic, racial, or religious group has systematically persecuted members of a minority or other marginalized group. Transitional justice seeks to achieve one or more of the following objectives depending on the context: providing redress for victims and accountability for perpetrators through judicial or non-judicial mechanisms (while recognizing that these are not binary categories and the same person can be both a victim and a perpetrator), repairing damaged relationships between offenders and victims (also known as “restorative justice”), promoting peaceful coexistence between previously adversarial groups, truth-telling and memorialization of the historical record of human rights violations, and legal or political reforms that address the root causes of the conflict in order to prevent its recurrence in the future. The seminar will also explore the importance of different types of data or evidence both for documenting international crimes and other forms of injustice and harm that transitional justice processes seek to address, and for empirically evaluating the effectiveness of peacebuilding programs that have been implemented in Iraq, Chile, and other contexts.

The seminar will also engage with important critiques and limitations of the field of transitional justice, which has historically been dominated by scholars and institutions from the Global North, and by Eurocentric concepts of justice that are not necessarily universal. Contemporary transitional justice efforts have focused disproportionately on what are often described as “tribal,” “ethnic,” and “sectarian” conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, but have paid considerably less attention to the enduring legacies of colonial and white supremacist violence in North America. Transitional justice also tends to prioritize accountability for some forms of violence, conflict, and crime over others. For example, compensation is often provided for victims of lethal violence (e.g., “condolence” payments made by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan to family members of civilians killed in airstrikes) but not for other forms of non-lethal harm such as sexual violence. Students will come away from the seminar with a strong understanding of the primary tools and mechanisms for transitional justice (e.g., trials, truth and reconciliation commissions, compensation), key historical case studies including Iraq, Rwanda, and the United States, and important debates and critiques that have shaped the field.

Students can choose one of three options to fulfill the course requirements: 

  • A research paper of approximately 20-25 pages* 
  • 5 short response papers on weekly readings (approximately 1,500 words each)
  • POLSCI or LAW: 1 research design proposal for an original research project using any empirical methods (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, archival) including draft Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol (required for research with human subjects such as interviews, surveys, or participant observation)

*LAW students will have an option to satisfy the JD Upper Level Writing Requirement through extension of the paper to 30 pages. 

Special Notes:


Fall 2022

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 20+ pages
Mara Revkin
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW-538-01-F22
Email list: LAW-538-01-F22@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - LLM-ICL
Course Requirements - Public Interest