Post-Conflict Peace-building: What Role for Historical Accounting?

Student Author(s)

Daniel Owens

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Virginia Beard; Dr. Fred Johnson

Document Type


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There has been considerable discussion among scholars in the past two decades regarding the efficacy of transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions and tribunals. These methods, which aim to advance peace, justice, and reconciliation in post-conflict societies, have been applied in a variety of capacities around the world, particularly in Africa. This paper focuses on two cases using transitional justice processes to build reconciliation across their nations - the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Rwanda’s gacaca courts as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Grounded in the transitional justice literature—multi-disciplinary scholarly monographs and articles—it draws heavily on material obtained during fieldwork in Rwanda, including personal interviews, a focus group, and participant observation. It also utilizes material gathered during participant observation in South Africa. Specifically, the paper explores how historical accounting impacts peace-building in a post-conflict society. It then places the lessons gathered within the context of other reconciliation processes such as those initiated in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Sierra Leone. It concludes an inclusive, transparent historical accounting process offers a more effective and robust foundation for reconciliation than a restrictive, topdown approach.

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