Prof Gabrielle Lynch Speaks on the Failures of Transitional Justice Mechanisms

The transitional justice mechanisms following the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya did not live to their expectations. This was the gist of Prof Gabrielle Lynch’s seminar presentation hosted by IDS on 24th September 2020.

With specific focus on Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Prof Lynch analysed how transitional justice efforts are incapable of dealing with how unjust and violent pasts actually persist.

The Seminar, 'Performances of Injustice:  Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, was based on her book, Performances of Injustice: The Politics of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Kenya.

The book reveals the story of an ongoing political struggle requiring substantive socio-economic and political change that transitional justice mechanisms can theoretically recommend, and which they can sometimes help to initiate and inform, but which they cannot implement or create, and can sometimes unintentionally help to reinforce.

The scholar says that although it has become almost expected that truth commissions will be introduced to try to consolidate a transition from authoritarianism and conflict to democracy and peace,  many countries that have sought to adopt South Africa’s  Truth and Reconciliation  Commission (TRC) have not been successful since specifics vary by country.

Prof Lynch observes that TRJC’s efficacy  was highly compromised due to the  credibility crisis regarding its chairperson, ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, who was linked  to three injustices the commission was meant to investigate. This prompted claims that he had been purposefully appointed to undermine the commission’s work.

“Other lessons were largely ignored. This included the importance of popular reception and political buy-in, as well as the inherent limitations of such a temporary body,” says Prof Lynch.

The TJRC hearings received were not well covered by the media unlike the TRC hearings. Prof Lynch observes that many of the issues heard at TJRC hearings had previously featured in other commissions hence they were ignored.

 

Other notable shortcomings were:

  • TJRC was upstaged by the International Criminal Court, which charged four prominent individuals with crimes against humanity.
  • TJRC relied on the TJRC Act’s stipulation that “recommendations shall be implemented” while authorities  pushed the Commission  to alter sections of the land chapter that adversely mentioned first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

 

Gabrielle Lynch is a Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Warwick. Her research interests include ethnic identities and politics, elections and democratisation, and transitional justice and local reconciliation efforts with a particular focus on Kenya.

The IDS bi-monthly seminars are coordinated by the Dr Radha Upadhyaya, a Research Fellow at the Institute.