PUBLISHED:April 03, 2024

Revkin argues for urgent revision of ineffective accountability and reconciliation mechanisms


Some of the best-known transitional justice mechanisms have failed to achieve their objectives of peacebuilding and reconciliation — and have even retraumatized the population — in countries like South Africa, Rwanda, and Cambodia.

Mara Revkin Mara Revkin

A new feature article co-authored by Associate Professor of Law and Political Science Mara Revkin argues that there is urgent need for the field of transitional justice to learn from a growing body of empirical research, including new data from public opinion surveys in conflict-affected areas, to develop evidence-based policies and programs that achieve their intended objectives. 

In "Evidence-Based Transitional Justice: Incorporating Public Opinion into the Field, with New Data from Iraq and Ukraine," published in The Yale Law Journal, Revkin and co-authors Ala Alrababah and Rachel Myrick use empirical evidence to identify a major problem in the field of transitional justice: numerous studies in diverse contexts have found that some of the most well-known transitional justice mechanisms, including those employed in South Africa, Rwanda, and Cambodia, failed to achieve their objectives of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

And in some cases, these policies had harmful consequences for their intended beneficiaries, including re-traumatization and perceived “justice gaps” between victims’ preferred remedies and their actual outcomes.

Transitional justice emerged in the 1980s to assist Eastern European and Latin American countries emerging from authoritarian and communist regimes in their transitions to democracy. But the field has grown so rapidly that it is outpacing its capacity to learn from past mistakes, the authors write. 

In the article they critically review the intellectual development of the field, consolidating empirical findings from 329 relevant studies across disciplines — law, political science, sociology, economics, public health, psychology, and anthropology — and identify open debates and questions for future research.

In addition to reviewing previous research, they also present new data from original public opinion surveys in Iraq and Ukraine relevant to ongoing transitional justice efforts in those countries, using this evidence to identify lessons learned, including mistakes, in the design and implementation of previous transitional justice processes.

"The similarities and differences across our survey findings in Ukraine and Iraq illustrate the highly contextual nature of transitional justice policies," the authors write. "The results emphasize the importance of understanding public attitudes in the communities directly impacted by such policies and programs."

The article concludes by discussing the normative and prescriptive implications of their findings for efforts to improve future transitional justice laws and policies. 

Alrababah is assistant professor of social and political sciences at Bocconi University and Rachel Myrick is the Douglas and Ellen Lowey Assistant Professor of Political Science at Duke University.