Current research

Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice: Narratives in a Historical Perspective

Transitional Justice (TJ) is, broadly defined, a legal and non-legal framework for confronting past abuses of a massive and violent character, and at the same time is a component of political transformation.

The study of Transitional Justice analyses the retributive and corrective mechanisms at work in the political context of regime change, in particular during the transition from authoritarian or totalitarian rule towards democratic consolidation and in the aftermath.

Gacaca court in Rwanda (Kigali Genocide Memorial Archive)

Project leader: prof. dr. Nanci Adler
Researchers: dr. Thijs Bouwknegt, dr. Vladimir Petrovic
Intended publications: two monographs 

More information

The retributive and corrective mechanisms include a whole range of performative repertoires:

  • official apologies
  • forgiving and forgetting
  • vetting
  • international criminal tribunals
  • national or local legal proceedings
  • truth commissions
  • official commemorations
  • revising school history curricula
  • establishing monuments and museums
  • hybrid trials

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 persecute the perpetrators, 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 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:

  • political science
  • anthropology
  • conflict studies
  • transitional justice studies
  • 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.


The programme serves to further the integration of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies into NIOD by implementing innovative research in joint focus areas: the process of confronting the Holocaust, other genocides, and mass political repression by society and successor regimes.