Jus Post Bellum Symposium: Contrasting Transitional Justice and Jus Post Bellum

by Jens Iverson

[Jens Iverson is a Researcher for the ‘Jus Post Bellum’ project and an attorney specializing in public international law, Universiteit Leiden.]

I would like to thank Opinio Juris for the opportunity to discuss the contrast between Transitional Justice and Jus Post Bellum.  This is a subject I have explored in Jus Post Bellum: Mapping the Normative Foundations, in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, and in Jens David Ohlin’s blog, Lieber Code.

I begin with basic definitions of each term, and then briefly discuss the application, goals, and future of each term.

The most useful definition of Transitional Justice

In Transitional Justice Genealogy, Ruti Teitel defines Transitional Justice “as the conception of justice associated with periods of political change, characterized by legal responses to confront the wrongdoings of repressive predecessor regimes.”  This is, of course, not the only definition of Transitional Justice, but I think it is one of the best.

Subsequent definitions tend towards vagueness.  The UN defines Transitional Justice as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.”  This lacks any specific mention of political change.  The International Center for Transitional Justice describes Transitional Justice as “an approach to achieving justice in times of transition from conflict and/or state repression.”  This lacks not only an emphasis on political change, but does not require state wrongdoing for the notion to apply, including also transition from conflict.

The main substantive emphasis of Transitional Justice should be on justice for human rights violations in the context of political change.  Armed conflict is unnecessary for the concept to apply.  The goals of Transitional Justice are fundamentally tied to the aspiration of transition, both towards justice for past violations and towards a cementing of a new political order that will prevent the old order, with its attendant human rights violations, from returning.

The most useful definition of Jus Post Bellum

The most useful definition of the term jus post bellum is the body of legal and ethical norms that apply to the the transition from armed conflict to a just and sustainable peace.  Jus post bellum must be understood in the context of its sister terms, jus ad bellum and jus in bello.  All of these terms are concerned with the use of armed force as a matter of primary, central importance.  Collectively, they seek to describe the constraints, capacities, obligations, and rights regarding whether armed force may be used at all, related to the use of armed force during armed conflict (how it may be used), and with respect to the transition from armed conflict to a just and sustainable peace.

In contrast to Transitional Justice, the substantive emphasis of jus post bellum is broader than human rights violations.  It also includes post-conflict restitution including restitution for property loss, violations of the laws of armed conflict that tend to affect the subsequent peace, environmental law (including legal access to natural resources and regulating the toxic remnants of war), state responsibility outside of the realm of human rights, recognition of states and governments, laws and norms applicable to peace treaties and peace agreements, peacekeeping, occupation, and post-conflict peace building.  It includes both applicable international law and the specific domestic laws.  It involves the application of both persistent areas of law that apply both during the transition to peace and during other periods (e.g. human rights, international criminal law, state responsibility, investment law, refugee and asylum law) and non-persistent areas of law that only (or mainly) apply during the transition to peace and not at other times (lex pacificatoria, the creation and immediate application of amnesty, post-conflict lustration, post-conflict reconstruction).  Jus post bellum is rooted in these legal concerns, and also in the tradition of considering the ethics of war known as the Just War tradition.

Contrasting the Application of Transitional Justice and Jus Post Bellum

While jus post bellum is substantively broader than Transitional Justice in many respects, jus post bellum is also clearly inapplicable in many scenarios where Transitional Justice is applicable.  Following a peaceful, non-violent revolution or regime change, the principles of jus post bellum may apply by analogy, but not directly.

Similarly, one can imagine a change in regime in which no significant human rights violations were perpetrated by the previous regime, deposed by armed conflict.  Armed conflicts happen without massive human rights violations.  Additionally, armed conflicts occur without regime change.  In these instances, Transitional Justice would tend not to apply, but jus post bellum would.

Contrasting the Goals of Transitional Justice and Jus Post Bellum

Just as jus post bellum is necessarily connected to an armed conflict, to the degree that jus post bellum has an aspirational character, it must relate in part to questions of war and peace.  One would think that jus post bellum is tied to the contemporary aspirational character of jus ad bellum and jus in bello: to constrain the use of armed force.  A just and sustainable peace is a central aspirational norm of jus post bellum, following a long but not uncontested tradition in international law.

The goals of Transitional Justice, in contrast, are tied to a transition in the human rights regime.  This is not to say that human rights norms are not central to jus post bellum—they are.  The supposed tension between different maximands such as peace and justice or truth and justice is frequently overblown.  Discovering the truth about human rights violations and achieving justice for those violations is widely-recognized as important in building a positive peace.  But there will be responses to human rights violations that are not properly the concern of jus post bellum.

The Future of Jus Post Bellum

Whether Transitional Justice and jus post bellum continue to grow and endure as useful concepts depends in part on whether these terms are defined with sufficient rigor.  Because both terms deal with complex phenomena and benefit from scholarly interest from disparate fields and traditions, coming closer to a consensus on the definition of these terms is difficult.  Since Transitional Justice and jus post bellum will often (but not always) apply simultaneously, it is all the more important to attempt this difficult task—to define both terms clearly and develop them in accordance with contemporary realities.  It is important to recognize that multiple maximands will co-exist, rooted in the separate but related traditions, sometimes in tension, but hopefully almost always carried forward with good will.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/05/06/jus-post-bellum-symposium-contrasting-transitional-justice-jus-post-bellum/

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