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Book launch: 'United States Law and Policy on Transitional Justice: Principles, Politics, and Pragmatics'

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Description: In United States Law and Policy on Transitional Justice: Principles, Politics, and Pragmatics, Zachary D. Kaufman explores the U.S. government’s support for, or opposition to, certain transitional justice institutions. By first presenting an overview of possible responses to atrocities (such as war crimes tribunals) and then analyzing six historical case studies, Kaufman evaluates why and how the United States has pursued particular transitional justice options since World War II.

This book challenges the “legalist” paradigm, which postulates that liberal states pursue war crimes tribunals because their decision-makers hold a principled commitment to the rule of law. Kaufman develops an alternative theory-”prudentialism”-which contends that any state (liberal or illiberal) may support bona fide war crimes tribunals. More generally, prudentialism proposes that states pursue transitional justice options, not out of strict adherence to certain principles, but as a result of a case-specific balancing of politics, pragmatics, and normative beliefs. Kaufman tests these two competing theories through the U.S. experience in six contexts: Germany and Japan after World War II, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, the 1990-1991 Iraqi offenses against Kuwaitis, the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Kaufman demonstrates that political and pragmatic factors featured as or more prominently in U.S. transitional justice policy than did U.S. government officials’ normative beliefs. Kaufman thus concludes that, at least for the United States, prudentialism is superior to legalism as an explanatory theory in transitional justice policymaking.

About the Author: Zachary D. Kaufman, J.D., Ph.D., is an academic specializing in political science, public policy, and law. His scholarly work (writing, teaching, and speaking) focuses on the fields of international law and international relations, including U.S. foreign policy; international and transitional justice; human rights; genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities; social entrepreneurship; and the Great Lakes region of sub-Saharan Africa (particularly Rwanda).

Dr. Kaufman is currently a Fellow at Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government‘s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In addition, he continues to be a Visiting Fellow at both Yale Law School and Yale University‘s Genocide Studies Program as well as a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he taught in Yale University‘s Department of Political Science and George Washington University‘s Elliott School of International Affairs, and he held fellowships or research positions at the U.S. Supreme Court, Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, Yale School of Management, and Stanford University.

This talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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