Addressing Dilemmas of the Global and the Local in Transitional Justice

49 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2013 Last revised: 7 Apr 2014

See all articles by Dustin N. Sharp

Dustin N. Sharp

University of San Diego - School of Peace Studies

Date Written: July 15, 2013


The importance of "the local" (local ownership, local values, local practices, etc.) in matters of post-conflict peacebuilding and transitional justice has become an increasingly common trope in academic and policy discourse. Yet despite its centrality, concepts like "local ownership' remain vague and poorly understood, often being associated more with aspirational rhetoric than concrete policy reality. Examined more deeply, the seeming consensus about the importance of the local in transitional justice masks a profound ambivalence arising out of a clash of normative commitments: between a commitment to liberal internationalism and international human rights on the one hand, and to principles of local sovereignty, autonomy, and democracy on the other. Striking a better balance between these commitments represents one of the key policy challenges of 21st century transitional justice. To this end, this article seeks to analyze and deconstruct the concept of the local in the transitional justice context, exploring its promises and pitfalls. In particular, I argue that understanding global-local dilemmas requires one to unpack the concept of local ownership, distinguishing concerns about actual control (agency, decision making, funding), process (bottom-up, participatory, homegrown), and substance (values, practices, priorities), even if those concerns are in practice highly related. Deconstruction of the concept of the local, in turn, tends to destabilize, breaking down simple binary notions of global and local. Going forward, achieving a better global-local balance along the multiple dimensions of local ownership may help to generate new and innovative approaches that take us beyond the increasingly rote transitional justice "toolbox."

Keywords: transitional justice, peacebuilding, local ownership, liberal peace

Suggested Citation

Sharp, Dustin N., Addressing Dilemmas of the Global and the Local in Transitional Justice (July 15, 2013). Emory International Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Dustin N. Sharp (Contact Author)

University of San Diego - School of Peace Studies ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

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