The Invention of “Transitional Justice” in the 1990s



This chapter draws largely from research on the judicial purges of former East German officials in unified Germany after 1990, which highlight particularly well how inappropriate and misleading the concept of “transitional justice” can be. Based on a questionable conception of time and causality, “transitional justice” prevents scholars from analyzing the German post-communist purges in their own legal, political, and social logics as well as in their own temporalities. I propose to trace a history of “transitional justice” as a phrase or “concept” as well as a professional international practice. As a phrase, “transitional justice” was born in the beginning of the 1990s at the crossroads of international law, academic political science, and human rights activism. From the beginning, however, transitional justice was not only conceived as an analytical concept, but also and foremost as a political practice. The emergence of the concept thus coincides with the gradual constitution of a particular sector of activity within the international sphere (an emergent internationalized social field). In this double process, some German human rights activists and scholars played an important role and contributed to making “transitional justice” a legitimate qualification of the post-communist purges in unified Germany; conversely, they attempted to make the German public policies regarding the communist past into an exportable model.


Social Entrepreneur Transitional Justice International Criminal Justice Legal Field Exportable Model 
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Copyright information

© T.M.C. ASSER PRESS, The Hague, and the authors 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut des sciences sociales du politiqueUniversité Paris Ouest NanterreNanterreFrance

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