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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • Kathryn A Sikkink
  • (617) 495-1872
Award Date:05/04/2010
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 311,036
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 311,036
  • FY 2010=$311,036
Start Date:06/01/2010
End Date:08/31/2013
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:AHRC-NSF MOU: The Impact of Transitional Justice on Human Rights and Democracy
Federal Award ID Number:0961226
DUNS ID:555917996
Parent DUNS ID:117178941
Program:LSS-Law And Social Sciences

Awardee Location

Street:200 OAK ST SE
Awardee Cong. District:05

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Street:200 OAK ST SE
Cong. District:05

Abstract at Time of Award

The Impact of Transitional Justice on Human Rights and Democracy When, how, and why does transitional justice strengthen democracy and deter human rights violations? This project explores those questions using statistical and case study analyses of human rights trials, truth commissions, and amnesties in countries transitioning from authoritarian rule since 1970. It aims to build theory to explain the success of these mechanisms, resolve existing contradictory results on success, train researchers working in this field, and contribute to successful international and domestic policies on transitional justice, democracy, and human rights. The two researchers' previous projects produced contradictory results. Kathryn Sikkink's research team at the University of Minnesota found that trials achieve success on human rights. Leigh Payne's research team based at the University of Oxford concurs that trials are essential to improvements in human rights and democracy, but only when combined with amnesties or amnesties and truth commissions. To reconcile results, the researchers plan to merge their data bases to find discrepancies, develop common definitions, and provide more nuanced categories of types of mechanisms. The result of the merger is to develop a publicly accessible data base to be used to develop transitional justice theory and policies. The theoretical framework the researchers plan to develop involves three explanations for the success of trials. Existing theory claims that trials should have a deterrence effect through judicial enforcement, the expansion of human rights norms and socialization processes, and the development of rule of law systems. The researchers will further explore the success of trials in relationship with amnesties and truth commissions to further develop a justice balance theoretical approach. The research is directly engaging with the factors that facilitate countries in their transition from open conflict to peace and stability. It incorporates the advanced training of young scholars and graduate students in quantitative and qualitative research methods. The researchers will make the resultant data base publicly accessible in order to provide the opportunity for further transitional justice research by other scholars and practitioners. The findings for the project will be presented at academic conferences and in scholarly journals, at meetings in international and domestic governmental and non-governmental organizations, and on the project website. Project is coordinated in cooperation with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of the United Kingdom

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Verónica Michel and Kathryn Sikkink "Human Rights Prosecutions and the Participation Rights of Victims in Latin America" Law & Society Review, v.47, 2013, p.873.

Hun Joon Kim and Kathryn Sikkink "How Do Human Rights Prosecutions Improve Human Rights after Transition?" Interdisciplinary Journal of Human Rights Law, v.7, 2013, p.69.

Hun Joon Kim and Kathryn Sikkink "The Justice Cascade: The Origins and Effectiveness of Prosecutions of Human Rights Violations" Annual Review of Law and Social Science, v.9, 2013, p.269.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

This research project, collaboration between researchers at the University of Minnesota and Oxford University, makes an important contribution to long-running and intense debates among scholars, policymakers, and practitioners about the prevalence and efficacy of transitional justice mechanisms, namely human rights prosecutions, truth commissions, and amnesty policies. In response to these important debates, we proposed the construction of a comprehensive cross-national database of these three mechanisms for the years 1970-2010 and promised to make our data available on a public website. We have successfully completed these and all other tasks outlined in our grant proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Our findings are striking. First, the use of transitional justice, a truly global phenomenon, is even more prevalent than we anticipated. For example, we collected data on over 4,600 human rights trials (with over 8,000 individuals accused of crimes). We also recorded and coded policy details for 70 different truth commissions and 41 amnesty policies. Some of these mechanisms are more prevalent in some world regions than others, but we find that countries in every world region has used and are using transitional justice mechanisms to address past human rights abuses.

Beyond questions about the occurrence of transitional justice, we wanted to know about its impact. That is, 1) Does transitional justice succeed in improving human rights and democracy? and 2) When, why, and how does transitional justice achieve these goals? Using our extensive cross-national dataset to conduct sophisticated statistical analysis, we arrived at a number of robust findings that help answer these questions.

First, and most importantly, our findings reassert the PIs previous claims that the use of transitional justice does indeed improve human rights and democracy scores. They also demonstrate, though, that these positive results depend on the quality of mechanism used and the timing of this mechanism. For example, trials with guilty verdicts had a stronger cumulative impact human rights than trials without guilty verdicts; truth commissions with broader public access and participation are associated with decreased repression; and 'partial' amnesties (those excluding war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity) when combined with prosecutions have a positive effect on human rights measures. Regarding timing, we find that transitional justice mechanisms do not have an immediate effect, but that the persistent and cumulative use of human rights prosecutions has a positive effect. Overall, we draw the following conclusion: higher-quality transitional justice mechanisms--specifically the systematic use of accountability over time, the broad involvement of civil society actors, and attention to local contexts of stability and instability--are most likely to create strong and widespread norms around democracy and human rights, strengthen democratic institutions to enforce those norms, and to do so without jeopardizing the transition.

Our data and findings make an impact on communities of interest in a number of significant ways. First, and most importantly, we have provided access to our comprehensive transitional justice database through our recently launched public website ( This website houses data in a format useful to both quantitative and qualitative researchers and policy-makers, including academics, governmental and intergovernmental officials and advocacy groups. It also provides a useful teaching tool for human rights educators. This represents a major advance for research and its impact in the very interdisciplinary field of transitional justice.

Our team members are also very active in disseminating our findings to wide-ranging communities, including professi...

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