NEWS | 26 Oct 2023

Integrating transitional justice and sustainable development

New publications call for a better alignment of the two fields

The new Guidance Note of the UN Secretary General argues that transitional justice needs to be more connected and comprehensive The new Guidance Note of the UN Secretary General argues that transitional justice needs to be more connected and comprehensive | PICTURE © Renu Yadav / United Nations

A Guidance Note of the UN Secretary General and a report by the Working Group on Transitional Justice and SDG16+ seek to align transitional justice and development.


The theory and practice of transitional justice must follow a more comprehensive approach that actively seeks to connect to other fields. This is highlighted in the new Guidance Note of the UN Secretary General on Transitional Justice, which prominently positions transitional justice as a “cross-cutting policy area” within the UN’s peacebuilding and sustainable development landscape. More than thirteen years after the publication of the last version, the new Guidance Note emphasises that to harness its full potential, transitional justice needs to extend its scope beyond the technocratic administration of justice. To do so, it asserts that “transitional justice policies, projects and programmes must be aligned with other reform processes”, including sustainable development.

Call for flexibility

To demonstrate its value and relevance for other policy areas transitional justice ought to become more flexible. As the Guidance Note stipulates, the priority must be to “identify the most relevant entry points for, and ways to frame, transitional justice responses in each context, with a recognition that terminology is of lesser importance (i.e. the work does not need to be called or framed as ‘transitional justice’)”. A more innovative and responsive approach to transitional justice, which does not rely on a formulaic application of its measures, will be better suited to satisfy people’s needs in the long run. At the same time, it makes it easier for actors in the fields of peacebuilding and development to find mutual connections.

The opportunities for transitional justice to contribute to the field of development was also highlighted in a new report by the Working Group on Transitional Justice and SDG16+, which we contributed to. One example mentioned in the report of how this can be achieved is through reparation programmes, which can provide infrastructure and social services to affected communities, leading to tangible and sustainable improvements in living conditions. Another example is via truth commissions, whose recommendations can offer a solid ground for development policies. As the report finds, “truth commissions often recommend reforming the structures that have driven violence and conflict and hinder or skew development”. Implementing these reforms promises long-term benefits for the lives of victims of violence as well as others.

Development-oriented approach

Realising the potential of transitional justice to bring about lasting reforms requires a different design and implementation of its measures. According to the report, they need to be “context specific, comprehensive, victim centred, participatory, gender sensitive, innovative, politically feasible, transformative in its ambitions, and adaptive to the cross-cutting issues of mental health and psychosocial support and access to information”. Only when these factors are considered can a “development-oriented approach to transitional justice” be achieved. Conversely, by providing entry points to dealing with legacies of violence, transitional justice provides a critical opportunity for making development policies more sensitive to the past.

As Global Learning Hub for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation, we will continue to explore past-sensitive linkages between peacebuilding, development, reconciliation and transitional justice.