Transitional justice is an important and decisive phase for societies emerging out of conflict and atrocities committed in the past. The conceptual framework for the development of the theory of transitional justice in the 1990s was largely based on the assumption that political transition process from authoritarian rule would lead to democratic transformation that ensures stability and protection of human rights.
But regimes in states whose political transitions are unsuccessful increasingly attempt to undertake some form of process of reckoning atrocities of the past. In such countries, despite the change of regime and formal transitional justice process, systematic violations of human rights and abuses have widely continued. The paper explores the challenges of conceptualizing transitional justice in countries where the democratic transformation process has been stalled. The paper particularly reviews the transitional justice process in a stalled political transition in Ethiopia. Since the end of the civil war which removed the communist regime from power in 1991, a number of formal democratic measures have been undertaken in Ethiopia. In addition to enacting a constitution which recognizes protection of human rights and provides the establishment of democratic institutions, a transitional justice process that prosecuted those responsible for the human rights abuses during the communist regime was undertaken. Despite the formal process undertaken for ensuring democratic transition, numerous researches and reports affirmed that the regime change has not necessarily ended the systematic violations of human rights in the country. In light of such context, the paper questions the relevance of the process of transitional justice in countries where regime changes did not alter the behavior of the state.
About the speaker
Semaghan Gashu Abebe is a visiting assistant professor at the Human Rights Institute of the University of Connecticut. He received his PhD and an LLM degree from University of Göttingen, Germany. He received a second LLM degree from University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He has published extensively in American, European and African academic journals on development, governance, public law, human rights and cultural diversity, all with a focus on Africa. Dr. Abebe recently wrote the book “The Last Post Cold War Socialist Federation: Ideology, Ethnicity and Democracy in Ethiopia,” and is currently co-writing a book on refugee law. Dr. Abebe worked for several years in Ethiopia as a university lecturer, a public prosecutor and an attorney. He also held visiting scholar positions at National University of Ireland and McGill University, Canada. He is currently a visiting researcher at University of Connecticut Human Rights Institute, where his work focuses on the human rights implications of large scale agricultural investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Abebe will be introduced by Robert Quinn, founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, based at New York University.