Timing and sequencing

Transitional justice measures are often designed and implemented hastily in the immediate aftermath of violence. Rushing transitional justice objectives could jeopardise the buy-in of key elites around peace-making, political settlement and/or constitutional reform processes that could lay the foundation for more inclusive political settlements. At the same time, failure to acknowledge and address legacies of mass violence during transition could mean the country runs the risk of continued violence in the future (World Bank, 2012).

A qualitative study on outcomes of trials and truth commissions in various countries finds that countries that experienced international transitional justice interventions in the immediate post‐conflict phase demonstrate mixed results in terms of internal political stability and support. On the other hand, countries that were self‐reliant and proceeded with transitional justice slowly benefited through greater internal political stability and support (Fletcher et al., 2009). The study also finds that all countries examined modified their original transitional justice responses after a moderate period of time in order to better satisfy the needs of victims. This demonstrates that state responses to mass violence are dynamic rather than static (Fletcher et al., 2009).

It is thus beneficial to view transitional justice as an ongoing process of transformation. In some cases, implementing initiatives before society is ready can produce more divisions. It may be better to delay the building of memorials, for example, until enough time has passed to allow survivors to reach more nuanced or balanced views about what happened during the conflict, such that memorials will not be divisive (Barsalou, 2005).

Ongoing political economy and conflict analysis can help identify risks, changes in incentive structures, new opportunities and implications for transitional justice strategies and implementation (World Bank, 2012). Shifts in the balance of power could mean initial amnesty (or immunity) is later displaced by formal justice interventions, as with the later indictment of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In Cambodia, dramatic changes in later years resulted in the initiation of criminal prosecutions of the Khmer Rouge (AIV & CAVV, 2009). Allowing too much time to pass, however, can be problematic, as there are now only a few people who can still be prosecuted and evidence is much more difficult to produce (AIV & CAVV, 2009).