Transitional Justice for Long-term Peacebuilding? A Case Study of Sierra Leone

Author: Christina Mammone

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 22 May 2027.

Mammone, Christina, 2022 Transitional Justice for Long-term Peacebuilding? A Case Study of Sierra Leone, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Transitional justice is a key pillar of the liberal peacebuilding framework, tasked with assisting rehabilitation and reconstruction in post-conflict countries. Through the implementation of its various mechanisms, transitional justice facilitates societal cohesion, reconciliation and accountability in the aftermath of mass violence, conflict and atrocities. In the case of post-conflict Sierra Leone, the implementation of a two-pronged transitional justice approach through the simultaneous application of a formal prosecution mechanism and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission generated considerable scholarly intrigue as many attempted to ascertain whether this transitional justice model could provide a holistic approach to peacebuilding. Despite criticisms of its application, the Sierra Leone transitional justice model has become the ‘gold standard’ for peace consolidation. This is because Sierra Leone has been able to remain relatively peaceful, whereas other similar countries reverted to violence within the first five years of transitional justice implementation. Twenty years after the conclusion of the Sierra Leone civil war, this thesis explores the long-term impact of the transitional justice process on society and whether transitional justice has been able to consolidate sustainable peace in the country.

As transitional justice is not explicitly associated with the promotion of long-term peace, the research incorporates a transformative justice perspective to examine how socio-economic related injustice impinges on long-term peace consolidation. Socio-economic destabilization was symptomatic of conflicts during the 1990s as the conflict in Sierra Leone resulted from a breakdown of governance and the exacerbation of socio-economic inopportunity which eventually led to civilian mobilization. Despite efforts to address the causal factors of the conflict through the transitional justice implementation, socio-economic problems such as poverty, limited access to education and employment continue to obstruct young people’s lives. Therefore, this research investigates how the persistence of such issues threaten country-wide stability and undermine long-term peace consolidation efforts.

Through semi-structured interviews conducted in Sierra Leone, this research gathered information and perspectives from NGO workers and civil society actors who were involved in the post-conflict transitional justice process and are currently involved in development and civil society activism in contemporary Sierra Leone. Based on this data, the thesis evaluates the implementation of transitional justice in the immediate post-war setting, and how its legacy continues to shape contemporary Sierra Leone society. It investigates how persistent socio-economic-related injustices affect community relations, societal cohesion and perceptions of youth, and argues that the transitional justice model was limited in its capacity to address socio-economic social injustices that underpinned the conflict. It finds that while transitional justice was able to address certain aspects of peace consolidation, a development-centric approach is needed when attempting to rectify long-term socio-economic destabilizers such as poverty, education, and income generation. Moreover, although there is no immediate threat to peace in Sierra Leone, it remains fragile and susceptible to destabilization.

This research reinvigorates academic discussion around the interlinking of development and transitional justice. It argues for a transformative approach to transitional justice, that incorporates long-term socio-economic development mechanisms in order to promote long-term sustainable peace consolidation.

Keywords: Transitional Justice, Peacebuilding, Sierra Leone

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Yvonne Corcoran-Nantes