Philanthropic Justice: the Role of Private Foundations in Transitional Justice Processes

In recent years, political transitions have become a major area of interest to private actors, including philanthropies. More and more philanthropic foundations have chosen to donate money to support transitional justice processes across the globe. However, philanthropies often take on not only the role of a funder but also the role of an active participant in transitional justice (TJ) mechanisms. They push for the building of long-lasting partnerships with state authorities and international organizations, and, sometimes, take over and administer certain transitional justice processes. As a result, philanthropic foundations wield considerable power in transitional justice, especially when the state cannot or will not act. Given the significant and growing role of philanthropy in both established democracies and states in transition, it is necessary to look more closely at issues of philanthropic involvement in TJ processes. Their activity remains largely outside the margins of international law scholarship. This article aims to make philanthropic contributions a more visible object of scholarly scrutiny.

This article will introduce the legal problems related to “philanthropic justice,” including concerns that speak for the need of more attention to the phenomenon. It will first show how private foundations engage in transitional justice mechanisms and spell out the concerns related to this philanthropic engagement in transitional justice. It will proceed with a discussion about the potential reasons why private foundations engage in international legal matters such as transitional justice. Further, the article will explore the United Nations’ legal frameworks on cooperation with the philanthropic sector. The last substantial part will cover the issues of responsibility of private actors under international law and why it is important in the context of transitional justice.