Designing Bespoke Transitional Justice: A Pluralist Process Approach

Although many scholars agree that contemporary transitional justice mechanisms are flawed, a comprehensive and unified alternative approach to accountability for mass violence has yet to be propounded. Like many international lawyers, transitional justice theorists have focused their assessment efforts on the successes and failures of established institutions. This Article argues that before we can measure whether transitional justice is working, we must begin with a theory of what it is trying to achieve. Once we have a coherent theory, we must use it ex ante, to design effective transitional justice mechanisms, not just to assess their effectiveness ex post. Drawing on several scholarly methods, I posit that effective transitional justice mechanisms are ones that successfully reconstruct social norms opposing mass violence. Because norm generation is an inherently communal and contingent social process, transitional justice ought to be primarily locally controlled and always precisely tailored to particular events and societies. In a word, it must be bespoke. This Article seeks to replace a universalist vision of transitional justice-imposition of a uniform set of substantive valueswith a pluralist approach to transitional justice-reconciliation of competing value frames through an inclusive process.