Cultural Variations in Restorative/Transitional Justice: Process Pluralism, Not One Size Fits All


This essay reviews some of the key issues in transitional justice process and institutional design, based on research and experience working and living in several post-conflict societies, and suggests that cultural variations in transitional justice goals, practices, and processes are necessary to accomplish plural goals. One “template” for transitional justice will not work in different settings, with different causes for human harms and conflict. In short, process pluralism is an essential part of transitional justice. How different political, social and cultural situations transition from conflict to less conflictual states will vary from society to society, and “transitional justice” is now as varied in purpose and implementation as “alternative” dispute resolution is in traditional adjudication processes in many societies. This essay draws on examples from Argentina and Chile’s emergence from post-military dictatorships, and offers some descriptions of how “transitions” themselves are transitional – learning iteratively from others, while often preserving some of what is culturally particularistic in valuing memory, punishment, forgiveness, restitution or reintegration at different levels of society. The essay describes both national and sub-national or transnational efforts at using, not only governmental processes, but those formed by civil society groups and at trans- and sub-national levels. Provocatively, and without any clear conclusion, the essay suggests that “democracy” and “the rule of law” may not necessarily be the only desiderata in transitional justice. The field of transitional justice has grown and developed both theoretically and in practice and this essay looks at how some of the particulars from case studies can further our understanding of how transitional justice is more than legal – it must include the social, the cultural and take account of individual variations in desires for different kinds of “justice.”

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