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“Global developments within the field of transitional justice –Progress or regress” Law School Public Seminar

Strathmore Law School in partnership with International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) was privileged to host a public lecture by Professor David Tolbert – President ICTJ to shed light on the topic ‘Global developments within the field of transitional justice –Progress or regress’ at Strathmore University.


ICTJ has over the years established an authoritative presence in Kenya through its contribution in strengthening transitional justice efforts and providing knowledge and support to various key stakeholders in particular, members of the civil society. Human rights violations are a key concern and ICTJ helps to build civic trust in state institutions as protectors of human rights.


 ‘Transitional justice is a set of judicial and non-judicial measures that are employed by different countries to re-dress the legacies of massive human rights abuses; these measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs and other institutional reforms’, said Prof Tolbert. He added that by trying to achieve accountability and redress for victims, transitional justice provides recognition of victims’ rights, promoting civic trust and strengthening the democratic rule of law.


The field of Transitional justice has evolved since the 1980s when it was used as a way of confronting massive human rights abuses without compromising the new political dispensations. Policy makers and academic peers appear to have taken note of the potential transitional justice holds in its ability to balance political transformation and justice demand.

In the past years, more than 40 countries have employed truth commissions as a transitional justice mechanism to account for past human rights’ abuses in an attempt to achieve remedies for victims. Tunisia is the most recent nation to establish a truth commission.

Three key questions were addressed during the seminar, these were;

  • Are we seeing a devaluation of transitional justice process?

In the last 10 years, we have witnessed failures of truth commissions e.g. The DRC truth commission, the Liberian and Ivory Coast truth commissions all of which have been faced with serious challenges. The Kenya truth commission has also faced problems.

If truth is the oxygen of truth & justice processes, then a failure to achieve truth leaves serious difficulties.

  • Truth seeking measures – are we seeing devaluation of truth commissions?

Those pursuing truth justice are not maximizing their demands for rights. Unfortunately, the past decade has seen a devaluation of truth seeking. If truth seeking is the very corner stone of Truth Justice Processes then the devaluation of truth seeking puts the whole process in jeopardy.

  • Criminal accountability and the impact of prosecuting mass or systematic crimes on societies- stability or instability?

The Kenyan case has presented a dichotomy between peace and justice, therefore in order to ensure peace is maintained, it is better to forego justice for the victims of PEV rather than open up old wounds that would lead to possible conflict. However, there is a growing understanding that one cannot have peace without justice since the roots of conflict have to be addressed.

In the session with Prof. Tolbert, issues around gender justice in police vetting process were also discussed whereby despite the vast documentation of sexual violence in the post-election crisis, to date, no individual has been convicted of a sex-crime committed during this period, nor have victims been compensated for harm they suffered. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (2013) indicated gender based violence was a contributor of human rights violations in the country as an issue to be recognized in the discourse of national reconciliation.


In conclusion, Kenya remains in continuous conflict since independence and to suggest that the country moves on without addressing long term issues would be foolhardy.

In addressing a question on the role of education in transitional Justice, Prof. Tolbert cited that it was the most important factor as it allows the passing of justice from one generation to another.


A Q/A panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Gitari (ICTJ) with a team of very able panellists who included, Prof. Tolbert, Mr. Kanjama (Advocate of the High Court), Amrita Kapur (Senior Associate ICTJ) and Mr. Biegon (formerly in TJRC) before taking questions from the audience, the different panellists explained their different areas of expertise.


As a conclusion, Dr. Luis Franceschi, Dean Strathmore Law School thanked Prof. Tolbert for visiting Strathmore and being a part of the very insightful seminar.