UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The international normative structure of transitional justice Tiemessen, Alana Erin


Transitional justice is a field of research that has benefited from an array of scholarship on accountability for atrocities, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But the emphasis on varieties of institutional design, such as trials and truth commissions, and the primacy of pragmatic and context-specific variables have obscured the fact that transitional justice is increasingly a norm-driven practice. The field, however, lacks a theoretical framework from which to assess the international norms that consistently have causal effects in diverse contexts and over the past decades in which the normative structure has evolved. I argue that the international normative structure of transitional justice is defined by four interrelated norms: a hierarchical division of criminality, accountability, localization, and reconciliation. The primary contribution of this dissertation is to explain the effects of this structure with a comparative analysis of each norm’s salience and implementation. I therefore juxtapose what is expected in principle to what is possible in practice. Measures of salience go beyond establishing if norms exist and determine how norms matter, as is shown by their role in shaping discourse, institutions and policies. Subsequently I contend that it is important to distinguish between implementation challenges that are institutional failures, such as a lack of capacity or politicization of the process, and those which are normative contestation, such as reinterpretations and challenges over how and whether a norm should be implemented in a certain context. While both can affect the legitimacy of transitional justice institutions, contestation in particular carries with it the possibility for change in the normative structure. The empirical focus analyzes the causal effects of the international normative structure, with the above measures, in Rwanda, East Timor, and the International Criminal Court. Individually, the case studies provide rich contextual detail on how the various norms shaped decision-making and institutions. The diversity in the transitional justice institutions is thus juxtaposed to the consistency in which the norms are salient across the cases and in their implementation challenges, lending credence to the influential effects of the international normative structure of transitional justice.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 3.0 Unported