Transitional Justice used to be the darling of the human rights nursery -- the subject of so many books, articles, conferences, and centers that it was accurate to describe it as a burgeoning field in its own right. It even has its own journal. All of these outlets are dedicated to the study of transitioning from conflict and atrocity to stable democracy and the rule of law. A central concern of transitional justice was accountability for prior wrongs, hence the field's intersection with international criminal law. Although these institutional outlets are still there, and undeniably important, I sense that change is afoot.
In the last two years, a new field of inquiry known as Jus Post Bellum has cropped up. In addition to a recent monograph by Larry May, the Grotius Centre at Leiden University is sponsoring a multi-year research project on the topic, and several prominent edited volumes have been published by major university presses in the last two years.
Jus Post Bellum is latin for "justice after the war." In that sense it casts a rather wide net, including questions of international criminal law and punishing perpetrators under domestic and international law, respecting or ignoring amnesties for government officials, as well as issues arising under the law of occupation. It also overlaps with the question of war termination, or when circumstances have sufficiently changed that the original justification for war has evaporated, thus requiring the cessation of hostilities.
The popularity of Jus Post Bellum as a moniker for discussing these issues makes me think that Transitional Justice has essentially been rebranded as Jus Post Bellum, and taken over by a different set of scholars viewing the issue from a slightly different perspective. The question is why did this rebranding happen?
First, it seems to me that framing these issues within the structure of Jus Post Bellum sets up an expectation that its arguments ought to mirror jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and to highlight any departure from these arguments as standing in need of special justification. This is a welcome development because it adds structure across the legal spectrum. Second, the latinized words Jus Post Bellum echo the Just War Tradition, and therefore bring the discourse into the domain of legal theory, history, and philosophy, whereas Transitional Justice as a field has been dominated more by other subdisciplines. So at least part of the shift seems to me institutional in flavor.
There are, however, relevant differences between Jus Post Bellum and Transitional Justice that shouldn't be glossed over. Jus Post Bellum is -- literally -- restricted to justice after a war, whereas Transitional Justice includes transitions away from dictatorships and other forms of tyranny involved with atrocities and human rights abuses, but which fall short of what one could honestly describe as an armed conflict. Transitional Justice is therefore broader than Jus Post Bellum, which suggests to me that Jus Post Bellum cannot completely replace Transitional Justice, which is here to stay.
But I see a coming conflict between the two fields of inquiry, and I question whether peaceful co-existence between them is likely or possible.