Colleen Murphy, "The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice" (Cambridge UP, 2017)


Colleen Murphy's new book, The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2017), argues that attaining some degree of justice is possible in nations transitioning to democratic states. There are many historical instances of nations whose citizens take action to change the nature of their regime from one of authoritarianism to democracy. Whether from France in the 1790s to Eastern Europe and Russia in the 1990s, the challenges facing new leaders to look to the future while accounting for the past can be daunting. Murphy argues that transitions need some degree of justice in order to be successful and she seeks to identify the key elements of just transitions. Murphy notes that a just result can take different forms, because of differences in culture, traditions, and the nature of the old regime. She further notes that transitional justice is not as clear and definitive as more familiar forms of justice, such as the retributive justice of the criminal law or the corrective justice of tort law. Instead, transitional justice involves degrees of accountability for wrongdoers and degrees of compensation and recognition for victims. The tools of transitional justice can include amnesties, criminal trials, memorials, truth and reconciliation commissions or reparations. Accordingly, not everyone in the society will be satisfied with the punishment, if any, meted out to perpetrators and the recognition given to victims may seem incomplete or insufficient. Nevertheless, in order to achieve a society-wide transition to a morally improved regime, traditional notions of justice may remain unsatisfied or incomplete.

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Ian Drake

Ian J. Drake is Associate Professor of Jurisprudence, Montclair State University.

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