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Introduction. New Horizons: Transitional Justice in the Asia-Pacific

Renee Jeffery and Hun Joon Kim


previous regimes and past periods of conflict ought to be addressed is one of the most pressing concerns facing governments and policy makers today. New democracies and states in the fragile post-conflict peace-settlement phase are confronted by the need to make crucial decisions about whether to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their actions and, if so, the mechanisms they ought to employ to best achieve that end. Since the 1980s, posttransitional states have increasingly opted in favour of accountability for human rights violations and have used a wide range of measures from prosecutions and punishment to truth telling, lustration of police and security forces, reparations, and judicial reforms, to reconciliation processes, apologies, forgiveness ceremonies, exhumations and reburials, memorialization projects, traditional and indigenous justice practices, and other guarantees of non-repetition.[1] In doing so, they have contributed to the emergence of what has variously been termed ‘the justice cascade’ or as a ‘revolution in accountability.’[2]

The purpose of this book is to provide an in-depth analysis of the practices, processes, and problems of transitional justice in the Asia- Pacific region. Although the practice of transitional justice is global in its reach, scholarship concerned with theorizing and analyzing the practice has focused on cases in Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. The reasons for this are largely historical. During the 1980s and 1990s large numbers of states in Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe experienced transitions to democracy and, in doing so, pioneered efforts to hold state officials accountable for past human rights violations. For example, exemplary truth commissions were established in the 1980s and 1990s in Argentina and South Africa, and foreign and international criminal prosecutions were carried out in response to human rights violations that occurred in Chile, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda throughout the 1990s. Although the use of transitional justice mechanisms to address past human rights violations has been similarly prevalent in the Asia-Pacific, however, this region has attracted decidedly less scholarly attention than Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

A simple comparison of the number of publications reveals this unbalance. As the Transitional Justice Database Project reveals, of the 1,520 country-specific studies of transitional justice published in recent years, only seventy-eight (5 percent) are on countries of the Asia-Pacific region. By contrast, 629 studies (41 percent) have appeared on transitional justice in Africa, 474 (31 percent) on Europe, and 336 (23 percent) on Latin American cases.3 The imbalance is not caused by the number of new democracies in the region because the Asia-Pacific region, with twenty-four new democracies since 1980, ranks second, following Africa (twenty-nine countries), and followed by Europe (twenty-one countries) and Latin America (seventeen countries). More strikingly, studies of

Vol. 19, No. 2 (2003), pp. 310-429;Hunjoon Kim, Expansion of Transitional Justice Measures: A Comparative Analysis of its Causes, PhD Thesis (2009), University of Minnesota.

3 Transitional Justice Database Project, at database/home (accessed 20 May 2011).

Japan, Cambodia, and East Timor make up almost 90 percent of all regional research. This suggests a lack of interest in those cases which do not get much attention from the international media. This is a significant oversight. The Asia-Pacific, as the region that has most recently embraced the practice of transitional justice, following, developing, and modifying practices employed in the rest of the world, has shaped many of the most innovative, dynamic and, at times problematic, processes. Examining the practices and processes of transitional justice in the Asia-Pacific will thus provide not only sorely lacking regional analysis but also broader insights into the theory and practice of transitional justice.

The remainder of this introductory chapter thus explains our understanding of transitional justice in the twenty-first century. By expanding the conceptual horizons of what constitutes a ‘transition’ and what the term ‘justice’ means, we provide a broad understanding of transitional justice that encompasses the range of contexts within which states and other actors pursue accountability for past human rights violations as well as the various means by which they seek that end. In order to situate our work within the development of transitional justice scholarship over the past three decades, we then provide an overview of the three key debates that have shaped the sub-field: prosecution versus pardon, retributive versus restorative justice, and bottom-up versus top-down approaches. In doing so, we suggest that a new trend in transitional justice is emerging and consolidating in the Asia-Pacific, where previous dichotomous divides are no longer relevant and synthetic and holistic approaches that combine different transitional justice mechanisms and notions of justice have taken hold. This provides the basis on which we explain the selection of cases included in this book before outlining its structure and content.

  • [1] Naomi Roht-Arriaza, ‘Civil Society Processes of Accountability’ in M. Cherif Bassiouni(ed.), Post-Conflict Justice, Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2002, p. 97.
  • [2] Ellen Lutz and Kathryn Sikkink, ‘The Justice Cascade: The Evolution and Impact ofForeign Human Rights Trials in Latin America,’ Chicago Journal of International Law,Vol. 2, No. 1 (2001), pp. 1-34;Chandra Lekha Sriram, ‘Revolutions in Accountability:New Approaches to Past Abuses,’ American University International Law Review,
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