Transitional Justice as Ordinary Justice

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Adrian Vermeule

Harvard Law School

U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 40

Theorists of transitional justice study the transition measures used, or eschewed, by new democracies that succeed communist or authoritarian regimes - measures including trials, purges, lustration, reparations, and truth commissions. The theorists tend to oppose transitional measures, portraying them as illiberal and as a distraction from the task of consolidating new democracies. In this Article we argue against that view. The critics of transitional justice have gone wrong by overlooking that transitional measures are common in consolidated legal systems, which themselves constantly undergo political and economic shocks resulting in transitions of greater or lesser degree. Ordinary justice has developed a range of pragmatic tools for managing transitions. Consolidated democracies use trials, purges and reparations to accomplish valuable forward-looking goals without allowing illiberal repression; new democracies can and should use those tools also. Because transitional justice is continuous with ordinary justice, there is no reason to treat transitional-justice measures as presumptively suspect, on either moral or institutional grounds.

Keywords: transitional justice

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Date posted: March 21, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A. and Vermeule, Adrian, Transitional Justice as Ordinary Justice. Harvard Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=387920

Contact Information

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)
University of Chicago - Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0425 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/posner-e/
Adrian Vermeule
Harvard Law School ( email )
1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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