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"Returning of Names Ceremony", Lubyanka Square, Moscow, October 29, 2016 (photo Nanci Adler).

Transitional Justice Program

Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice: Narratives in a Historical Perspective
How do societies address their “bad pasts” in order to create “good futures” in the aftermath of conflict, state-sponsored repression, dictatorship, and genocide? Transitional Justice has generated numerous strategic and tactical approaches for redressing often irreparable harms. These include: international criminal tribunals, national or local legal proceedings, truth commissions, restitution, the accurate revision of history, public apologies, the establishment of monuments and museums, and official commemorations.

In all these mechanisms, the testimonies of victims, witnesses and even perpetrators are at the core of the narratives of the crimes. Such narratives convey the crimes to the public domain. They tell what happened but also re-construct what happened in interpretive frameworks that are used to prosecute the perpetrators, to reveal chains of command, and to offer an explanation from the perspective of authorities and opinion-makers. Consequently, the historical study of such narratives can bring the scholar closer to the fundaments of Transitional Justice, as well as to its limits.

The historical approach can not only reveal long-term connections (the nature of the repressive regime, the political parameters that determined the transition, the political culture of the respective states/systems, the mass xenophobic scapegoating that provides a repressive state with the ‘necessary’ grounds for atrocities), but can additionally shed light on the clash between the post-repressive state and the dissidents, or marginalized counter-voices.

In contrast to the currently dominant legal approaches to transitional justice, our historical approach has the instruments to produce an integral interpretation of the connection between the narratives, the actors, and the historical context(s), that can offer insights into -- and analyses of -- unrecognized impediments as well as new perspectives for facilitating progress. Current NIOD Transitional Justice research is motivated by the search for strategies to confront the challenges to transitional justice in societies that are post-conflict/post-genocide/post-dictatorship, but not post-repressive.

The general goal of the NIOD-TJ programme is to contribute to understanding the aftermath of mass state-sponsored human rights violations in post-genocidal, post-conflict, post-repressive societies. Of particular interest are the effects and long-term implications of the repression and the subsequent transitional justice measures. These issues will be scrutinised from a historical, analytical perspective that draws on insights from various disciplines, including:

  • history
  • political science
  • anthropology
  • conflict studies
  • transitional justice studies
  • Holocaust and genocide studies
  • post-socialist studies
  • memory studies
  • psychology

While establishing ‘best practices’ is not the aim of this research programme, studying how these evolved should offer insights relevant to our historised present.


Current areas of focus:

  • Cultures of repression
  • Competing narratives
  • The ‘hard’ cases where transitional justice has largely failed to take root


Select bibliography of NIOD TJ research:

Adler, Nanci, ed. Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice: Crimes, Courts, Commissions, and Chronicling, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 2018.

Adler, Nanci, “On History, Historians, and Transitional Justice,” in Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice, pp. 1-17.

Adler, Nanci, “Challenges to Transitional Justice in Russia,” in Stan, Lavinia, Horne, Cynthia, eds. Transitional Justice and the Former Soviet Union: Reviewing the Past and Looking Toward the Future, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Adler, Nanci, (with) Üngör, Uğur Ümit. “Epilogue: Indonesia in the Global Context of Genocide and Transitional Justice,” Journal of Genocide Research 19, 3 (2017).

Adler, Nanci, “Communism’s ‘Bright Past’: Loyalty to the Party despite the Gulag,”, in Faces and Traces of Violence: Memory Politics in Global Perspective, Culture and History Digital Journal 3, 3 (2014): e015.

Adler, Nanci, Leydesdorff, Selma, eds. Tapestry of Memory: Evidence and Testimony in Life Story Narratives, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2013.

Adler, Nanci, “The ‘Bright Past’, or Whose (Hi)story? Challenges in Russia and Serbia Today,” Philosophy and Society XXIII, 4 (2012): 119-138.

Adler, Nanci, “Reconciliation with – or Rehabilitation of – the Soviet Past?” Memory Studies 5, 3 (2012): 327-338.

Anderson, Kjell, “Collective Crimes, Collective Memory, and Transitional Justice in Bangladesh,” in Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice, pp. 213-235..

Bouwknegt, Thijs B., “The International Criminal Trial Record as Historical Source,” in  Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice, pp. 118-145.

Immler, Nicole L., Narrating (In)Justice in the Form of a Reparation Claim: Bottom-up Reflections on a Post-Colonial Setting – the Rawagede Case,” in Understanding the Age       of Transitional Justice, pp. 149-174.

Petrovic, Vladimir, “Swinging the Pendulum: Fin de Siècle Historians in the Courts,” in Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice, pp. 21-36..

Petrovic, Vladimir,  Clio Takes the Stand: The Emergence of Historical Forensic Expertise, London: Routledge,  2016.

Petrovic, Vladimir, The Power(lessness) of Atrocity Images: Bijeljina Photos Between Perpetration and Prosecution of War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia,” International Journal for Transitional Justice 9, 3 (2015): 367-385.

Tromp, Nevenka, Prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic: The Unfinished Trial, London: Routledge, 2016.

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