Students' Research Supports African Union Transitional Justice Policy

On May 2, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the launch of a multiyear, multimillion dollar fund supporting implementation of the new African Union (AU) Transitional Justice Policy, which aims to further efforts to achieve sustainable peace, justice, reconciliation, social cohesion and healing following conflict and atrocity crimes across Africa. Learn more. Adoption of the Policy follows an eight-year effort by African leaders to produce an Afrocentric policy informed by African experiences while ensuring that transitional justice strategies address root causes of conflicts, legacies of violence, governance deficits and developmental challenges specific to the continent.

quote from director about W&M studentsDevelopment of the new Policy was supported over the course of several years by research undertaken by William & Mary law students working under the supervision of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in Cape Town, South Africa, as part of the Advanced Applied International Research (AAIR) seminar taught by Professor Christie S. Warren, Director of the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding.

CSVR is an independent non-governmental organization established in South Africa in 1989 during the apartheid period. The Centre’s work is rooted in an analysis of the shifting forms of conflict and violence within societies undergoing transitions to democracy. Its Board Patron is Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu.

“Partnerships such as the one we have with CSVR provide students with hands-on experience contributing concrete assistance to societies recovering from conflict and violence,” Warren says. “This is an example of the mission of the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, which seeks to build bridges between resources available at academic institutions and the great need for them in the field. At the same time, the work our students do with our partner organizations gives them experience and skills that enable them to enter the competitive world of international development and peacebuilding.”

photo of Mr. Atif ChoudhuryAtif Choudhury J.D. ’15, who serves as Senior Program Associate at The Carter Center, participated in the seminar in 2013 and conducted research on transitional justice strategies undertaken in Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.  He said: “As a Bangladeshi-born American, I understand on a personal level how sensitive yet vital these painful, trans-generational issues are for millions of conflict survivors and their descendants in countries around the world. Working with CSVR allowed me to offer thorough and objective analysis on transitional justice mechanisms used by African nations and outline possible recommendations. The opportunity to participate in the seminar helped me develop the knowledge base and skills to work effectively in my current field, which is highly complex and continually evolving.”

photo of Ms. Anne WalliceAnne Wallice J.D. ’17, an Associate at Kirkland and Ellis in New York, enrolled in the seminar in 2016. “My research focused on identifying factors impacting the choice of transitional justice mechanisms used by countries throughout Africa and the measurable outcomes flowing from those choices," she said. "In law school, learning is often just theoretical; in the AAIR seminar we were asked to understand and address wider policy implications of our research. The practicalities involved with my work for CSVR provided me with a solid background for working at Kirkland and Ellis, where I am required to deliver concrete, succinct responses to problematic issues and propose direct paths forward.”

Dr. Hugo van der Merwe, Director of Research at CSVR, coordinated research support for the development of the AU’s Transitional Justice Policy. “It is largely through the support of dedicated students from William & Mary that we were able to document the diversity of transitional justice processes in place across the continent and ground the policy development process in local challenges and priorities of African countries," he said. "The students’ strong research and writing skills ensured a sound knowledge base for this groundbreaking project.”

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