Transitional Justice Network research

Economic and Social Dimensions of Transitional Justice

Research area chair: Sabine Michalowski, Law

Traditionally, transitional justice has concentrated on gross violations of civil and political rights in the context of dictatorships or armed conflict. Transitional justice mechanisms accordingly primarily aim to provide tools to deal with the legacies of abuses of civil and political rights. However, a holistic and coherent response to transitional justice must ensure that the economic roots, consequences and legacies of the situation that gave rise to the transition are addressed as part of the processes of transitional justice.

The TJN will explore issues such as:

Poverty and redress

In many transitional countries, conflict and repression have been caused by and/or created inequality, social exclusion and/or poverty. Even after the country begins a transition, the distribution of wealth often continued to be blatantly unequal and large parts of the population will continue to live in extreme poverty. This raises particular problems for successful transitions, as long lasting peace and justice cannot be achieved without giving social justice a place in transitional mechanisms.


Often, dictatorships or conflict situations provide fertile ground for corruption. In the context of transition, mechanisms are then needed to deal with problems such as how to eradicate corruption in the emerging state, but also how to deal with the consequences of past corruption, such as the wealth created through it. One important aspect of this is the question of whether and to what extent financial obligations taken on by corrupted regimes are binding the newly emerging state.

Sovereign debt

Loans are often instrumental in financing armed conflict or maintaining a regime that commits human rights violations and/or uses its power to accumulate personal wealth. In many transitional countries, the debt policies of an oppressive regime that governed without any democratic participation or control decisively shaped the future of the country when it returned to democracy, as the new government’s political leeway will often be severely limited and conditioned by the debt burden. In such a situation one can clearly see that a holistic approach to transitional justice must include an assessment of the validity of the transitional country’s debt.

Corporate complicity and TJ

When it comes to the topic of transitional justice, it is evident that many transnational corporations have helped, directly or indirectly, repressive regimes or armed actors in the commission of serious international crimes, as has happened in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of the topics in need of analysis where corporate complicity arises in the context of transitions are 1) the role of liability for corporate complicity in achieving the objectives of transitional justice; 2) the adequate mechanisms through which this can be achieved; and 3) whether the remedies for complicity need to be adapted to the special circumstances of the transitional context.

Seminar: Linking transitional justice and corporate complicity

The seminar was organized by Professor Sabine Michalowski, together with Professor Leo Filippini from the Universidad de Palermo, Buenos Aires, after having secured a BritishAcademy grant under the UK-Latin America and the Caribbean Link scheme on ‘Linking transitional justice and corporate complicity’. The project that consists of two international seminars, will carry out the second part of the project with a second expert seminar in Buenos Airesin April 2011.

From 13 to 15 September 2010, experts from different countries gathered in Essex to discuss the particular problems raised where corporate complicity arises in the context of transitions, using as case studies the experiences in Colombia and Argentina. For further information about the programme and participants click here and for summaries of the different presentations click here.

From 7 to 8 April 2011, the second expert seminar took place at the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires. For further information about the programme and participants click here and for  the abstracts of the presentations click here.