Spring 2019 Course Schedule

Transitional Justice (LAW-795TJ-001)
Diane Orentlicher

Meets: 02:30 PM - 04:20 PM (Tu) - Capital - Room C317

Enrolled: 13 / Limit: 22

Administrator Access


Course Requirements: The principal class requirements consist of the following: Class participation: Much of the intellectual value of this class derives from critical class discussion of issues raised by the assigned readings. Attendance and active participation in class discussion is therefore essential. Thirty percent of final grades will be based on the quality of students’ contributions to class discussion, including the degree to which class participation reflects careful consideration of “Questions for Class Discussion,” an integral part of most assignments. In addition to the assigned readings, students will be assigned to a group, each of which will follow a country that is confronting or is likely in the future to confront questions about how to address a legacy of serious human rights violations committed on a mass scale, such as Sri Lanka, Syria, Burma/Myanmar. You will work with other members of your group to understand the country context, and apply material covered in designated classes to the creation of a transitional justice proposal for that country. During the final class, each group will present the outlines of a transitional justice plan for the country it is following. You may not write your final paper on the same country. Your contributions to this process will be a key factor in assessing your class participation grade. Final paper: Students must complete a 20-page paper that describes and analyzes a specific case study or key issue involving transitional justice, and makes clear how the situation or problem they have selected illustrates and is informed by the cross-cutting issues of transitional justice that we have explored in class. Students who use their final papers to satisfy the Upper Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) must meet the additional requirements specified here: https://www.wcl.american.edu/academics/academicservices/registrar/current-students/courses-registration/writing-requirements/. If you plan to use your final paper to satisfy the ULWR, you must notify me of this choice no later than January 29, 2019. Seventy percent of final grades will be based on final papers.


Course Overview: In virtually every region of the globe, societies emerging from extended periods of armed conflict and repressive governance have confronted the question of how they should address a legacy of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law. In some instances, mass atrocities have given rise to prosecutions before international criminal tribunals; in many cases, societies emerging from periods of sweeping violence have adopted their own programs of transitional justice. Although “transitional justice” has not been defined consistently, the scholar who coined the phrase has defined it as “the conception of justice associated with periods of political change, characterized by legal responses to confront the wrongdoings of repressive predecessor regimes,” while the United Nations Secretary-General has defined transitional justice (TJ) as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” In the late 1980s-early 1990s, as myriad countries emerged from authoritarian rule and undertook programs of retrospective justice, TJ became a central preoccupations of the global human rights movement and emerged as a field of law, policy, diplomacy, and inter-disciplinary scholarship. At the level of front-line practice, societies confronting their legacies of repressive governance typically faced agonizing dilemmas. How, for example, should they confront human rights violations of the prior regime without triggering a destabilizing backlash that might derail an already fragile democracy? In the United Nations, various initiatives have sought to systematize the core elements of TJ practice—criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence—while offering guidance to countries grappling with the often-agonizing dilemmas associated with TJ. These and other initiatives have given rise to further debates and critiques, including the charge that they represent a “checklist” approach to dilemmas that are far to complex and diverse to lend themselves to a universally appropriate set of responses. This seminar explores the core debates and dilemmas associated with TJ, using a series of case studies to illuminate critical issues such as: Under what circumstances are amnesties for atrocious crimes permissible? Who should provide the answer? Under what circumstances can international tribunals and commissions advance goals associated with transitional justice?

Textbooks and Other Materials

The textbook information on this page was provided by the instructor. Students should use this information when considering purchases from the AU Campus Store or other vendors. Students may check to determine if books are currently available for purchase online.

First Class Readings

Not available at this time.