The International Center for Transitional Justice works for justice in countries that have endured massive human rights abuses under repression and in conflict. We work with victims, civil society groups, national, and international organizations to ensure redress for victims and to help prevent atrocities from happening again. Transitional justice
work unfolds in unique and most challenging of conditions, in societies shaped by widespread violence, polarized politics and fragile institutions, where we invest our knowledge, effort and commitment to help heal fractured communities and restore confidence in the rule of law.
From full blown national and international conflicts to repressive governments ordinary people are very frequently the victims of abuses – and on a massive scale. Such violence may involve mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape, massive displacement, forced recruitment of children and myriad other crimes. It leaves societies devastated, with crumbling institutions that cannot serve its citizens and consequences lingering for generations. Transitional justice is about societies seeking to recover from such profound and systemic failure.
ICTJ brings more than 15 years of experience in over 40 countries to try to answer the difficult questions about what can be done in these terrible circumstances to ensure the dignity of victims is recognized and respected, and measures are taken to prevent the recurrence of violations.
While many groups working on human rights focus on exposing and denouncing violations and atrocities, our focus is on what often proves even more challenging – trying to put the pieces of a broken society back together again on foundations of justice and the rule of law. This requires staying in the struggle for the long haul and being an active part of the solution. Our work often begins when the cameras leave.
Our goals are concrete and tangible:
- Fighting impunity and seeking accountability for serious violations of human rights
- Establishing accountable institutions and restoring confidence in them
- Increasing access to justice for the most vulnerable in society in the aftermath of violations
- Ensuring that women play an effective role in the pursuit of a just society
- Restoring respect for the rule of law
- Facilitating peace processes and fostering durable resolutions of conflicts
- Establishing a basis to address the underlying causes of conflict and marginalization
- Making sure the voices of young people are heard on issues that directly affect them
- Advancing the cause of reconciliation
Transitional justice includes a range of responses to massive human rights violations, including exposing the truth about past atrocities, holding perpetrators accountable, providing reparations for victims, and fundamentally reforming the state and social institutions that allowed—and in many cases participated in—atrocities.
Our experience shows that justice is essential for societies to transition from conflict to sustainable peace, from massive abuses to respect for human rights, from lawlessness to the rule of law. We also know that these justice efforts need to take account of the fragile conditions that follow conflict and repression.
Transitional justice is not a magic wand that can be waved to transform societies, but it can be an indispensable tool in the struggle to address recurrent cycles of violence, impunity, divided communities, displacement, gender inequality, corruption, and marginalization.
Most countries that suffer from a national conflict experience a recurrence. Between 1945 and 2009, 57% of all such conflicts relapsed at least once. From 2000 to 2011 ,the figure is worse—a 90% recurrence rate. The immediate post-conflict context is the best opportunity to establish the basis for a new commitment to the rule of law. Transitional justice is, in this sense, a coherent early action plan to prevent future conflict.
Where does ICTJ work?
We work in countries around the world, with central offices in New York City, the location of the United Nations headquarters. We have local teams working with partners in Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lebanon, Nepal, Tunisia, and Uganda, and maintain offices in The Hague and Brussels. Our experts also assist transitional justice efforts in many other countries where we don’t have offices, including Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Africa, South Sudan, Turkey, and Ukraine.
ICTJ has been called on to help in some of the most challenging contexts:
- In Colombia, our advice was at the heart of the peace negotiations, helping shape critical aspects of the agreement that has brought an end to the longest running conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
- In northern Uganda, ICTJ’s work on reparations gives hope for a life of dignity to children born of conflict-related sexual violence which were employed as instruments of terror during the war between the government and LRA.
- In Tunisia, our experts are advising those involved in the transitional justice process, offering a way to address the legacy of decades dictatorship and of systemic corruption which robbed the country and its citizens of economic and political opportunities. ICTJ’s work is ensuring the participation of women in the transitional justice processes, from sharing their experiences as victims to holding decision-making positions.
- In Syria we are emphasizing the need to focus on the enormous numbers of displaced people as the first step to developing a coherent transitional justice approach. Without dignified return and meaningful restitution the all for justice will ring hollow for more than half of the population. We are also working with Syrian civil society leaders to effectively use documentation of human rights violations to reduce impunity.
How do we work?
We partner with victims and activists
Victims’ rights are an essential component of transitional justice and thus are at the heart of ICTJ’s work. We work with survivors of widespread human rights abuses to help them articulate their demands for justice and ensure that they have a say in shaping policies that affect them. ICTJ works with victims to make them aware of their rights under international and domestic law, to assist them in building cases against perpetrators, to help them reach the truth and acknowledgement about the violations they and their communities have suffered, and to receive redress.
Truth and justice usually emerge as the result of the relentless, unwavering efforts of activists. From the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina to protestors on the streets of Tunis to human rights lawyers in villages in northern Uganda, ICTJ is a constant ally of those on the front lines of this struggle. We help to develop their capacity to engage with institutions, influence legislation, and articulate their demands in the public domain—and get results.
We advise governments and those in power on how to most effectively pursue justice in complex, changing environments
When governments, judicial authorities, or international agencies resolve to create laws, policies, and institutions to pursue transitional justice, ICTJ is recognized as the “go-to organization” for insightful and informed analysis and advice.
Our expertise and access to key decision makers allow us to make important contributions, offering recommendations that are acted upon, including multiple appearances before the United Nations Security Council and other key international bodies. In 2012, ICTJ President David Tolbert participated in the UN Security Council’s open debate on the consequences of conflict for children, a rare feat for an NGO.
We work to hold perpetrators accountable
We provide expertise to victims and prosecutors as they build cases against perpetrators of human rights abuses and serious international crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity. Our staff includes lawyers who have worked for national and international courts trying cases of some of the worst atrocities committed in the past 50 years, from Guatemala to Yugoslavia to Sierra Leone.
we provided embedded technical assistance to the public prosecutor
for over a year in 2001-2002 when national prosecutions had little institutional support. We have worked with victim groups and their representatives
. In 2012 we worked with the national prosecutors in the preparations for the case against former dictator José Efrain Ríos Montt
with a number of missions to Guatemala and expert reviews of evidence, indictments, and legal arguments.
We were instrumental in developing the Colombian Attorney General’s strategy for prosecution of serious crimes. We also deployed experts with his team for over a year and developed a manual with the aim of providing technical assistance to the National Unit for Analysis and Context (UNAC) and to support the development of protocols, procedures, and methodologies related to the investigation and analysis of serious crimes committed in the conflict in Colombia.
We convene groundbreaking forums and discussions
Throughout our history, ICTJ’s profile as a leading international organization in the field of transitional justice has allowed us to convene groundbreaking discussions on accountability and reform in national, regional, and international contexts. In our early years we convened leaders of relevant U.N. departments and agencies to debate the implications of the rapidly growing demands for transitional justice.
More recently, ICTJ helped convene an unprecedented meeting of relevant national authorities and specialized prosecutors from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, to discuss regional cooperation on the investigation and prosecution of serious international crimes. With the African Union and the Kofi Annan Foundation we organized a forum in Addis Ababa on the role of truth commissions in peace negotiations, and a conference in Bogotá opened by President Manuel Santos that examined the challenges and opportunities for the pursuit of truth in Colombia.
We conduct innovative research
Our research aims to bolster global knowledge of the successes and failures in the field, promote innovation, and inform best practice. We share this knowledge locally, regionally, and internationally, through publications, policy recommendations, workshops, and international meetings.
Recently, ICTJ published a multiyear research project, Justice Mosaics How Context Shapes Transitional Justice in Fractured Societies
, examining and emphasizing the challenges and opportunities of pursuing transitional justice in different—and difficult—contexts, and the importance of understanding the context in which any efforts can take place—which means proper analysis and assessments being conducted to determine appropriate responses.
To gain a stronger understanding of how education can help countries dealing with legacies of conflict and mass atrocities, ICTJ partnered with UNICEF on an ambitious research project
examining the connections between education and transitional justice in peacebuilding contexts like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, Peru, and South Africa.
In a first systematic research project of its kind, ICTJ and the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement looked into how transitional justice measures could address injustices suffered by displaced persons. The multi-year study examined the capacity of transitional justice measures to address abuses related to displacement, engage the justice claims of refugees and the internally displaced, and contribute to durable solutions.
What change does our work bring?
Our vision is of a world where rights are enshrined in law and strong institutions exist to make widespread human rights abuses unacceptable. We invest the expertise of our staff from across the world in finding workable solutions and responses to demands for justice. We work with local partners to understand the situation and try to work out what justice can look like under the most difficult circumstances.
Over the last 15 years ICTJ has played a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the truth commissions in Timor-Leste, Peru, and Sierra Leone through intense advice and assistance at all stages of the commissions’ work; it has provided time-critical support to criminal justice efforts in Guatemala and Argentina; it has been a leader in ensuring victims are mobilized to play a role in policy deliberations in Uganda, Morocco, Iraq, and beyond; it has brought innovation by proposing and devising massive mapping exercises of human rights violations in Afghanistan from 2003-2007 and more recently in Lebanon.
Some recent examples of our impact:
- ICTJ played a key role in making public hearings of Tunisia’s TDC a transformative event for the society.
- In Guatemala we worked with the national prosecutors in on the case against former dictator José Efrain Ríos Montt with a number of missions and expert reviews of evidence, indictments, and legal arguments.
- In Cote d’Ivoire, we brought together youth leaders and helped them build their advocacy network, Reseau Action Justice et Paix, which articulated youth experiences during the conflict to both the government and the general public through a series of public events, radio broadcasts and musical performances.
- In the Philippines, our years of active engagement helped set the stage for legislation that granted reparations and recognition to victims of human rights violations during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
- In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we facilitated crucial collaboration between civil society organizations, prosecutors, and magistrates on the prosecution of international crimes
When was ICTJ created?
ICTJ was established in March 2001 at the suggestion of the Ford Foundation to explore strategies for helping societies focus on the rights of victims in dealing with legacies of massive human rights abuses and pursuing the search for sustainable peace. We were created at a time when many people with experience working in places like South Africa, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina and the former Yugoslavia saw the value of creating a specialized organization that could draw on diverse national experiences to provide expert advice to victims’ groups, civil society, and national and international bodies.
By that point, the world had witnessed the political transformation of Latin America’s Southern Cone, the end of the civil wars in Central America, South Africa’s dismantling of Apartheid, and the collapse of the Soviet empire. The societies that underwent these changes all had to grapple in some way with their histories of systematic abuse and atrocity—and they did so in very different ways. ICTJ was created to help these societies work through difficult transitions while pursuing justice.
Who are ICTJ’s experts?
ICTJ experts come from a range of countries where transitional justice measures have been implemented to deal with massive human rights abuses, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lebanon, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Uganda, as well as other countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and a number of European countries. In countries where we have an office, ICTJ relies on local expertise to drive our work on the ground.
They are lawyers, political scientist, sociologists, and international affairs experts who in many cases have personally experienced the consequences of war or repressive regimes in their own countries of origin. Many have served in truth commissions or criminal courts, or worked with the United Nations or national and international nonprofit groups in countries grappling with legacies of massive human rights abuses.
ICTJ at 15: What We Do and Why We Do It
As we look to the challenges ahead, we celebrate 15 years of ICTJ’s contribution to a better world.
Impact of our Work
What is Transitional Justice?
Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.