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Economic and social rights and transitional justice: realising social justice in societies emerging from conflict

Research output: Working paper


Publication date2012
Original languageEnglish


Transitional Justice (TJ) has traditionally ignored or sidelined violations of economic and social rights (ESRs), focussing almost entirely on violations of civil and political rights as the primary grave human rights violations to be addressed when seeking justice for past atrocities that have taken place. Whilst selected authors have addressed the at times conflicting aims of ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ , very little attention has been given to the consequences for peace and justice if violations of economic and social nature are either completely ignored or are presented as ‘background’ information i.e. setting the context for what is perceived as more serious crimes of a civil and political nature.

One central argument is that ESRs have been omitted from the field of TJ due to the focus within TJ mechanisms on criminal justice, rather than viewing TJ as inclusive of different conceptions of justice, such as social justice. As Arbour has noted, ‘[Transitional justice’s] neglect of economic, social, and cultural rights is merely symptomatic of a deep ambivalence within justice systems about social justice.’

This paper will explore the nexus between ESRs, Transitional Justice and Social Justice: It will challenge the ‘traditional’ conception of TJ, examine possible reasons for the current exclusion of ESRs from TJ and uncover the shortcomings of such an approach. There is a need to redefine TJ; to embrace a holistic conception of justice inclusive of social justice. The recognition of ESRs within TJ mechanisms, constitutional legal frameworks & as a basis for institutional reform will contribute to this aim. This paper will make an important contribution to the development and understanding of TJ: Using an ESRs framework will make TJ more effective in responding to the needs of the people, not only by seeking remedy for past violations but also by addressing root causes of conflict and sources of social injustice.