Understanding the Past to Build a Better Future: Transitional Justice and Democracy

Open Access
Rohrbach, Valerie
Area of Honors:
International Politics
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Gretchen G Casper, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • transitional justice
  • democratization
  • human rights trials
  • truth commissions
  • amnesty
  • vetting
During a transition from a cruel autocratic regime to a democracy, societies often face the dilemma of how to finally confront the atrocities committed by the outgoing regime. In the latter half of the twentieth century, transitional justice tools such as human rights trials and truth commissions have been increasingly used to accomplish this task. The use of transitional justice methods is theoretically useful for establishing essential elements of a democracy, such as the rule of law. This study sought to empirically determine whether these transitional justice tools actually succeed in helping a society transition towards democracy. By building a dataset that includes over 100 countries that have used transitional justice methods, I quantitatively determined the relationship between transitional justice and democracy. This study found that there is a positive relationship between the use of transitional justice methods and democracy, although results vary by method type and region. Furthermore, this study examined the specific stories of several countries’ attempts at facing the human rights violations of the past in order to discover why and how exactly these tools helped a society – or failed to do so.