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Transition and Justice in Sierra Leone and Liberia

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In sub-Sahara Africa, recent debates about political new beginnings have often been framed in terms of transitional justice and criminal responsibility. These debates are not limited to truth commissions and international criminal tribunals. The problem of new beginning after violent conflict or political oppression has shaped controversies and contestations in a range of sites including re-education camps for demobilized combatants, village meetings, parliaments and domestic courts. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, the new beginning after the end of the civil wars has been a contradictory and contested process. In both countries, truth commissions were established to address past injustices. In addition, in Sierra Leone an international criminal tribunal was set up to hold accountable ‘those bearing greatest responsibility’ for war crimes and crimes against humanitarianism. The focus on these institutions, however, does not reflect the complete story of the messy new beginnings in Sierra and Liberia. Although not labelled as transitional justice mechanisms, there have been detentions and trials in the national courts that have to be seen in the context of the debates about how realize more justice and a break with the past. My analysis will, on the one hand, situate the truth commissions and the Special Court for Sierra Leone in relation to conflicts and negotiations about the terms of the new beginning and, on the other, examine the detentions and domestic trials in the context of debates about transition and justice in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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