Transitional Justice

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How can a country, scarred by genocide, ever recover and regain a sense of normalcy? How can two rival factions, each guilty of committing horrible atrocities against the other, ever learn to live together in peace again? How can victims of torture rebuild their internal worlds while their external circumstances remain equally fractured? This course studies the field of transitional justice, through which countries and the international community endeavor to move from chaos to stability, to punish the guilty, to document the historical truth, and to help the victims heal. Subjects include the Holocaust and the experience of surviving German Jews after the war, apartheid-era South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Argentine military dictatorship and the struggle to find children kidnapped from the government's victims. People interested in law, history, international relations, human rights, and current events will be interested in this class.


Unit Essential Questions Content Skills and Processes Assessment Resources
General Overview
  • What are the purposes of peace? How can a lasting peace be achieved?
  • Who is justice for?
  • Is it more important to punish or rehabilitate offenders?
  • How can a society help victims in their healing process? How can a whole society heal?
  • Should justice be compromised in the pursuit of stability?
  • To what extent should the international community be permitted to intervene in domestic affairs?
  • Under what conditions is transitional justice appropriate?
  • How have the tools and institutions used to promote transitional justice transformed over the last several decades?
  • Historical origins and evolution of peace-making, from the ancient world to the present
  • The development of transitional justice and international law, from Nuremberg to the International Criminal Court
  • The problematic truth commissions of Argentina and Chile
  • South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • The International Criminal Court and the pursuit of justice in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia
  • Current cases of transitional justice, including Liberia, Brazil, and Canada
  • Familiarity with international law and legal mechanisms, learning to decode legalese
  • Making use of oral testimony and conflicting perspectives to construct historical understanding
  • Distinguishing between optimal strategies for ideal and practical circumstances, finding solutions that fit individual conditions
  • Formal, academic research, making use of online databases
  • Use of online tools
  • College seminar-style discussions, driven by student discussion leaders
  • Mock Trial roleplays, re-creating or anticipating truth commission hearings
  • Construct "moment of truth" scenarios, examining critical decisions in the transitional process
  • Research project examining an individual truth commission
  • Create or expand wikipedia pages on prominent truth commissions
  • Between Vengeance and Forgiving by Martha Minow
  • Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman
  • Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog
  • Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number by Jacobo Timerman
  • The Key to My Neighbor's House by Elizabeth Neuffer