The Spectre Returns:Conflicted Democracies,Truth Commissions and the Law

Colm Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Part of the self-identity of the liberal democratic state is a commitment to the ‘rule of law’. A paradox exists when a liberal-democratic state finds itself dealing with a legacy of serious systematic rights-violations. There is a further paradox when ‘transitional justice’ analyses are employed to deal with the conflicted ‘past’, since this discourse developed out of the need to deal with the legacy of authoritarian regimes in transition to democracy.The UK’s attempts to deal with Northern Ireland’s ‘past’ can be understood as the outworking of these paradoxes, and as driven by the need to comply with adverse rulings in relation to Art. 2 ECHR. This is the context for the ‘Report of the Consultative Group on the Past,’ which recommends a ‘Legacy Commission’ - in effect, a truth commission. The example suggests that transitional justice mechanisms can never fully be ‘outside’ the conflict, the legacy of which they examine. Assertions that particular international law framing is required contribute implicitly to a broader meta-conflict. While transitions involving authoritarian states can project straightforward narratives of change, those in the liberal state are unlikely to fit together so coherently, even if the level of violations is lower.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalWeb Journal of Current Legal Issues
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jun 2010


  • transitional justice
  • truth commissions
  • amnesties
  • dealing with the past


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