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Department of Politics and International Studies

Violence, justice and the politics of memory

Course Code:
15PPOH019
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 1

This Term 1 course offers historical, theoretical and empirical perspectives on the nature and causes of conflict and its impact of on social and economic development in Africa and Asia over the past century, as well as memory and justice responses to violence. The course emphasises the crucial linkages of conflict, memory and justice, in particular the prevalence of unaddressed or manipulated memories of violence, historical grievance and impunity as causes of further conflict.

Students begin the course with a selection of readings on explanations of warfare and violence, including models that apply social, cultural, materialist and instrumental theories of causation, followed by theoretical considerations of responses to conflict, principally in terms of memory and justice processes.  The course then explores these themes through detailed African and Asian case studies. The course concludes with some overarching considerations for memory and justice responses to conflict, explored through the institution of the International Criminal Court and attempts to create a global accountability regime.

The choice of cases include the Rwandan genocides of 1960, 1973 and 1994; brigandage and predation in eastern Congo after 1993; Amin’s Uganda, the war of liberation and religious cults and violence in northern Uganda; the southern Sudanese wars since 1958;  and the Khmer Rouge ‘utopian’ genocide in Cambodia. In each case, students will be encouraged to consider the means of violence employed, the causes and motivations of conflict (including rational choice explanations and political economy factors), the relevance of political systems (including ‘imposed’ democratisation) and political instrumentalism, issues of gender, youth, religion and ethnicity, and questions of culpability, ethics and moralities. The economic aspects of conflict (`the costs of war’) are also tackled.  International dimensions are treated in relation to relief aid, development aid, reconstruction, and conflict resolution. The course also includes discussion of various forms of memorialisation, commemoration, accountability, reparations, reconciliation and atonement.  

Of particular concern for this course are issues of transitional justice, which broadly concern the processes by which societies address the legacies of widespread human rights abuses, such as those arising from political repression or mass conflict, and facilitate transition to stable, open societies where human rights are fostered and protected. Over the last twenty years, the realm of transitional justice has witnessed the proliferation of different legal and non-legal mechanisms designed to address the legacies of human rights abuses, including the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the gacaca community courts in Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court.

As a result of this proliferation, transitional justice has become an increasingly fragmented area of study, with various disciplines – particularly law, politics, sociology, criminology, development studies and international relations – conducting discrete theoretical and empirical research. This course provides a more systematic, inter-disciplinary examination of transitional justice theory and practice.  It examines the theoretical and historical foundations of transitional justice, the objectives and modalities of different transitional justice mechanisms, the effect of legal, political and cultural contexts on the operation of transitional justice processes and, in turn, the impact of transitional justice on those dimensions of post-conflict and/or post-repression societies. After laying important theoretical and conceptual foundations, the course focuses on case study-based analyses in order to explore the implications of transitional justice concepts in practice.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate…

  • A knowledge and understanding of the historical origins of violence and war in Africa and Asia.
  • A knowledge of a wider theoretical and comparative literature in relation to African and Asian conflict case studies.
  • The ability to discuss the historical and conceptual underpinnings of memory and justice processes in a wide range of countries.
  • The ability to critically assess the impact of memory and justice processes on individuals, communities and countries recovering from mass conflict and/or repressive rule.

Scope and syllabus

Course Structure

1. Analysing Conflict: Grand Narratives, Local Struggles
2. The Politics of Memory: The Past in the Present and Future
3. Theorising Justice: Historical, Conceptual and Methodological Issues
4. South Africa: Amnesty after Atrocity?
5. Rwanda: Ethnicity, Genocide and Tiers of Justice
6. Uganda: Are Victims Perpetrators?
7. Sudan: Darfur, Oil and Southern Independence
8. Cambodia: Genocide in Pursuit of ‘Utopia’
9. Timor-Leste:  Militias, ‘Local’ Justice and the Role of Outsiders
10. A Global Accountability Regime? The International Criminal Court and Tensions in Transitional Justice

Method of assessment

Assessment is 90% coursework and 10% class participation. Coursework is resubmissible.