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PSRP Researcher Presenting: The Transitional Justice Toolkit Approach in Burundi

June 2, 2016 @ 2:45 pm - 4:30 pm

Astrid Jamar, PSRP member, will present as part of the panel ‘We Need to Talk about “Transitional Justice”: Idealism or Imperialism? Towards A Neo-Colonial Critique of Post-Conflict Trendy Ideology’ on Thursday 2nd June, at the Law and Society Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

As part the global dissemination of transitional justice (TJ) practice, a range of technical documents and lobbying activities have influenced the TJ policy framework in various contexts around the world (Lefranc 2010; Subotić 2012). These have been depicted in academic literature as a ‘toolkit approach’ followed globally by TJ practitioners and in local contexts. It involves a set of aims (peace, reconciliation, strengthening of the rule of law, democracy and accountability) achieved through a set of mechanisms (truth-seeking, judicial, reparations, reform of institutions and vetting).

Despite being widely used in critical scholarship on TJ, the term TJ toolkit still lacks a clear definition and empirical scrutiny. My contribution aims to define what the toolkit approach is, how it has been implemented and its effects in a specific local context, Burundi. The chapter addresses the following questions:

  • How was the TJ toolkit consolidated?
  • How can the TJ’s entanglement in aid structures be analysed?
  • Why such approach can be perceived as a limitation of the Burundian TJ process?

Considering TJ as a collection of aid-dependent practices, my research is positioned in a critical perspective and gives an emphasis on the technocratisation of TJ. Drawing on critical development studies (Escobar 2011; Ferguson 1990; Mosse 2005; Duffield and Hewitt 2013), this leads me to argue that the current implementation of TJ is taking place through patronising practices ‒ focusing on technocratic efforts using western concepts and institutionalised mechanisms, while giving limited attention to the local political and micro-social dynamics inevitable to an implementation within fragile contexts.

Overall the presentation aims to unpack the consolidation of the ‘TJ toolkit’ and its implementation within a localised context – Burundi. I first present the Burundian TJ agenda. In the second section, I highlight the ideological, institutional and pragmatic dimensions of such toolkit approach. To do so, I underline how (i) TJ ideology and (ii) the resulting policy framework, were framed globally and brought into the Burundian context. I put these theoretical and empirical discussions in perspective with critical TJ and development literature. With the aim to draw attention to micro-politics of TJ implementation, the third section presents an ethnographic vignette of a TJ training organised by various local and international organisations in Burundi for local practitioners.

Full panel programme

Photo credit: ICTJ/Esdras Ndikumana/AFP/Getty Images


June 2, 2016
2:45 pm - 4:30 pm
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Law and Society