Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science, International Politics

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

J. Martin Rochester


David Kimball

Dave Robertson

Robert Barnidge


This study explores the societal effects of transitional justice mechanisms in post-conflict countries. In particular, an emphasis is placed on exploring whether truth commissions, which are suggested in virtually all post-conflict situations today, exhibit a positive or negative effect on key indicators, such as democracy, human rights, economic development, and the durability of peace. Three central research questions are examined. First, do truth and reconciliation commissions “work”? In other words, are they associated with a reduction in communal violence and improvements in democratic institutions, human rights protections, and economic development? Second, must truth commissions be coupled with transitional justice mechanisms that are retributive in nature in order to exhibit a positive societal effect? For example, if policymakers couple a truth commission with a human rights criminal tribunal, will this increase its efficiency and societal effect? Third, and finally, are top-down approaches to transitional justice, such as truth commissions, becoming increasingly obsolete in the 21st century in comparison to more localized, traditional dispute resolution mechanisms?

A mixed-method approach is used to explore these three central research puzzles. The quantitative section of this study uses a dataset on more than 1,100 transitional justice mechanisms between 1970 and 2010 to examine the first two research questions. The qualitative aspect of this study uses Rwanda’s gacaca courts as a case study to explore the effectiveness of bottom-up versus top-down approaches to transitional justice. These community-based courts were the face of Rwanda’s ambitious transitional justice project and charged with investigating all crimes committed during the genocide. To assess their effect, survey and interview data are used to draw connections and an overall picture of public perceptions toward gacaca and other forms of transitional justice in post-genocide Rwanda.

This study finds evidence to suggest that truth commissions are unlikely to produce positive societal outcomes if used in isolation from other transitional justice mechanisms. Further, this study finds some, albeit limited, evidence to suggest that truth commissions, when paired with reparations, do appear to be associated with positive societal effects in the forms of increased levels of democratization, reduced levels of communal violence, and increased levels of wealth in post-conflict countries. The Rwandan case study, moreover, indicates that top-down approaches will likely fail to accomplish their goals if they do not provide tangible results at the local-level. The key theme in the survey and interview data is that gacaca, while imperfect, was a country-specific solution to a country-specific problem using a country-specific transitional justice mechanism. More importantly, this case study suggests that we must continue to rethink how transitional justice is being implemented in situations marked by past periods of violence and instability at the local level. A mixture of bottom-up and top-down approaches appear to be better situated to meet the specific needs and desires of various stakeholders that are influential in shaping peace, justice, and reconciliation.

OCLC Number