Research themes

TJI research is focused on the theory and practice of transitional justice.

TJI pursues its research agenda through theoretical and empirical work that seeks to transform and develop the theory and practice of transitional justice.

The Institute's research interests are currently structured around the following four broad research themes:

Dealing with the Past

Transitional justice asserts that legacies of systematic human rights violations must be addressed. Failure to adequately deal with the legacies of past violence is believed to deepen the suffering of victims and survivors and impede the ability of transitional societies to move towards peace, reconciliation, democracy and the rule of law.

In this research stream, we use a range of disciplinary and methodological approaches to explore questions relating to why, how and with what effect transitional societies can deal with the past, including:

  • transition: how should the term 'transition' be understood? When does it start and end? How do different forms of transition shape approaches to dealing with the past?
  • crimes, violations and harms: what were the range of harms that were perpetrated? What international obligations regulate how states should respond?
  • role of law: What is the relationship between transitional justice and the rule of law? To what extent does the role of law in transitions differ from law in settled democracies?
  • undoing the past: What measures can to be taken to undo the past eg reparations; land redistribution; prisoner releases; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration?
  • dealing with the past: What are the forms, operations and impact of institutions established to pursue truth, accountability and reparations? How can these institutions be sequenced?
  • actors: what roles are played by national and international actors in shaping transitional justice?

Through its dealing with the past research, TJI provides both high quality academic research as well as policy outputs for both domestic and international audiences.

For further information, please contact: Professor Rory O'Connell - Research Director, Law.

Gender, conflict and transition

Gender research at the TJI is driven by the objectives of scholarly excellence, real world impact and dissemination through teaching. The research addresses the following broad themes:

Theorizing gender in transitional justice: gender scholars at the TJI draw on diverse theoretical frameworks to illuminate and understand transitional justice. In particular, gender scholarship at the TJI is informed by masculinities studies, postcolonial theory, intersectionality theory and feminist political theory.

The role of international law in shaping transitional justice:  gender scholarship at the TJI engages in doctrinal analysis and critical reflection of international human rights law, international criminal law and international humanitarian law, in their delivery of accountability and redress for gendered harms in conflict. A particular area of activity in this regard is collaborative policy-driven work conducted at the TJI concerning reparations for conflict-related sexual violence.

Gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict settings: gender research at the TJI is instrumental in illuminating continuities between gender-based violence in pre-, during and post-conflict settings, and in the relationship between political  violence and more quotidian private and intimate forms of violence taking place in contexts of political violence.

Translating theorized critique into practical application: gender researchers at the TJI engage a diverse range of methods to translate internationally-excellent research into practically usable tools. This work takes diverse forms, such as undertaking research consultancies for intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations; the development of training materials and 'toolkits' for gender and conflict practitioners; writing accessible research summaries for policymakers; and through delivering taught postgraduate programmes and short courses in gender, conflict and human rights.

Northern Ireland: local and global perspectives

Transitional Justice is primarily concerned with facilitating movement from conflict to peace.  Increasingly, however, both conflict and processes of resolution are being understood as fluid with dynamics that change over time.  Consequently processes of conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building are now recognised as closely related. TJI aims to make a focused contribution to these broader debates by exploring transition, both in the Northern Ireland context and internationally. Under this theme TJI asserts that greater understanding and acknowledgement of the relationship between law and the causes of conflict are necessary not just to transition, but also to preventing earlier conflict escalation. Also, 'transitional mechanisms' exhibited in societies emerging from protracted conflicts can have a constructive role if promoted when conflict is at an emergent stage.

Research in this area applies a multidisciplinary approach to the issue of transition. This strand of TJI work uses both doctrinal and socio-legal approaches. The focus of the work includes exploration of the local situation in Northern Ireland and providing models of application and analysis to other conflict and transition situations, if applicable. Similarly, lessons from other conflict and transitional situations globally help to inform the debate on the Northern Ireland transition. This form of global/local interchange has developed new understandings of conflicts and transitions, and serves to inform debate in the area.

Issues addressed under this research theme are:

  • Conflict / post conflict
  • Emergency law / 'war on terror'
  • Special courts
  • Ex-combatants / DDR
  • Social movements
  • Socio-economic rights
  • Parading / Freedom of assembly
  • Equality
  • Public inquiries
  • Peace Agreements
  • Wall murals; community and voluntary politics in Northern Ireland
  • Commemorations / political developments within Ulster Loyalism and modern Irish Republicanism

Theory, Method and Evaluation

As a field, transitional justice has evolved considerably from its roots in the political study of the nature of transition and the application of international law to such contexts. Transitional justice scholarship now incorporates a broad range of disciplinary perspectives which add considerable depth to the study of the mechanisms and processes employed by societies moving from conflict to peace and from repressive rule towards democracy. The inclusion of a broader range of disciplinary perspectives has also brought with it an increased diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches to scholarship.

Since its inception the TJI has been engaged in the theorisation of transitional justice and the related concepts of human rights and democracy. The research conducted within the Institute has drawn on both doctrinal legal research and socio-legal approaches to contribute to key transitional justice debates. Research currently being undertaken at the TJI demonstrates diverse and innovative theoretical and methodological approaches being applied to transitional justice research. Many of these approaches are at the cutting edge of transitional justice scholarship.

Rather than creating a new area of substantive research in the field of TJ, this stream showcases the diverse theoretical and methodological approaches already being employed within the TJI. By highlighting the variety of theories and methodological approaches that can be applied to the study of transitional justice, this stream aims to foster dialogue on the contribution of theory to TJ scholarship and to promote ongoing dialogue on the subject of methodological approaches to research in transitional justice and to disseminate findings to a wider audience.

Theory: The work of the TJI showcases a broad range of theoretical perspectives being applied to the study of transitional justice. The term "theory" in this context refers to theory as methodology – a framework applied to the research question- but also to theory as a critical lens through which to view key issues in transitional justice. Transitional justice has been analysed through the lens of postcolonial theory, feminist legal theory and critical theory. Research in the TJI has also led the field in developing a theory of gender and transitional justice. Much of this research also pushes the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge, incorporating perspectives from the fields of law, political science, sociology and anthropology, amongst others.

Method: Legal methods have been and remain central to the research undertaken at the TJI. There is expertise in doctrinal legal study, comparative study and socio-legal approaches to research. There is significant expertise in the use of qualitative social science methods to conduct transitional justice research. The TJI is also now at the cutting edge of developments in TJ internationally through the development of databases as tools for both qualitative and quantitative research in transitional justice.

Evaluation: There is an increasing trend within transitional justice scholarship towards the evaluation of transitional justice institutions and their outcomes. This is evidenced in the desire to evaluate both qualitatively and quantitatively the success or failure of transitional mechanisms. Research which is ongoing at the TJI seeks to develop methodological tools for the evaluation and impact assessment of transitional justice.