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Center fellow gives an update on his transitional justice research

Penelope Van Tuyl and Adam Kochanski
Feb 18 2020

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By Isabel Vasquez, Student Assistant.


Dr. Adam Kochanski, a former postdoctoral fellow and a current research fellow at the Center, recently returned to Stanford to discuss his research findings on local transitional justice (TJ) processes. His research questions the sweeping endorsements of locally-rooted TJ processes that abound in current scholarship. In his talk, Kochanski explained how these local processes can be used to deflect, rather than deliver, the truth and justice.

In arguing for a more critical analysis of local TJ processes, Kochanski highlighted the tendency of current scholarship to consider these local processes as legal rather than political instruments. He argued that all transitional justice processes are inherently political, and insufficient attention has been given to the impact of local-national power asymmetries. Using Cambodia and Mozambique as case studies, Dr. Kochanski explained how ruling government parties subtly influence local transitional justice mechanisms in order to limit their scope and exclude discussions of government responsibility for human rights violations.

According to Kochanski, ruling parties distort local TJ processes in two primary ways. First, ruling parties limit the temporal scope of TJ mechanisms to politically expedient time periods that overlook government involvement in atrocities. In the case of Cambodia, such influence is evident in the emphasis on atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979, excluding discussion of crimes that both preceded and followed that period. The government of Cambodia monitors forums and meetings regarding the violence of that era, and, as one Cambodian interviewee explained, “If we tried to talk about other periods, there would be no public forum.” The second manifestation of government distortion of local TJ processes is the imposition of identity boundaries that set strict victim and perpetrator binaries. Such binaries serve to insulate the political elite from responsibility for human rights abuses.

As a result of his findings, Kochanski argues that more research must be conducted to understand the circumstances that increase the risk of elite capture and manipulation of local transitional justice processes. He hypothesizes that there may be a sequencing issue at play, suggesting that local TJ processes could be pre-empted with discussions at the national or international level. Dr. Kochanski’s findings will be further developed in the finalization of his book project: Justice Deflected: The Uses and Abuses of Local TJ Processes.

Watch the video of this event.