Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUCLA

The Politics of Transitional Justice: Seeking to end more than 50 years of war in Colombia

  • Author(s): Dunkell, Saskia Nauenberg;
  • Advisor(s): Walker, Edward T;
  • et al.

In the last 30 years, transitional justice has spread around the world as an expected approach for countries dealing with human rights abuses in the wake of mass violence. While at first glance this seems to indicate that states around the world are becoming more homogenous in how they redress victims, a closer look shows that transitional justice measures have been established in disparate ways. Drawing on sixteen months of fieldwork in Colombia, South America, this research offers a more dynamic theoretical understanding of the historical, social, and political processes involved in establishing transitional justice in a distinct national context. Following a multi-sited approach, my study moves from interviews with community leaders in areas of the countryside heavily affected by violence to meetings at the Presidential Office for Human Rights, in order to understand Colombia’s history of transitional justice, the role of international human rights laws in Colombia, and the victims’ agreement at the 2012-2016 peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas.

I introduce the concept of selective decoupling to examine how states like Colombia adopt some components of a global transitional justice framework, while rejecting or altering other aspects in response to national pressures. I argue that four mechanisms—the institutional statement, historical precedents, global position, and political struggles—explain how and why transitional justice is selectively decoupled. The chapters of the book are organized around these mechanisms.

Chapter 1 describes how the concept of transitional justice emerged and became a taken for granted response for states transitioning from violence. I argue that the malleability of transitional justice has allowed individuals with different political goals to promote these measures for diverging purposes. Chapter 2 chronicles Colombia’s history of internal conflict, previous peace agreements with guerrillas and paramilitaries, and past attempts to negotiate peace with the FARC, to demonstrate that the way different administrations have approached the conflict in Colombia has structured and foreclosed opportunities to address past violence. Chapter 3 traces the history of international human rights laws and institutions and shows that Colombia has adopted a posture of strategic embrace, by welcoming human rights language, measures, and policies in formal settings, as a tactic for resisting outside involvement. Chapter 4 provides an in-depth look at the political struggles behind the state’s transitional justice approach for paramilitaries in 2005, and how this process has impacted subsequent agreements in Colombia. Chapter 5 brings these four mechanisms together to explain the selective decoupling of the 2015 transitional justice agreement, the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition, which appears to follow global standards, while incorporating radical innovations that depart from international norms. And finally, Chapter 6 argues that scholars and practitioners should reconsider why transitional justice is established, whom these measures are for, and how they can redress victims of human rights violations.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View