Post-Conflict Justice and Local Ownership

Traditionally peace settlements, accountability mechanisms and judicial institutions were essentially viewed as instruments of dispute settlement. Today, they are seen as a corollary to security and sustainable peace and part of conflict management. This normative shift from dispute settlement to ‘managerial’ and ‘transformative’ justice poses normative and institutional challenges. The respective institutions and mechanisms were largely developed in response to specific crisis situations and on the basis of ad hoc and sui generis arrangements. International courts and tribunals have been criticised for deploying means and methods that are at odds with domestic legal cultures or ill-suited to facilitate sustainable reform. Criticisms relate, inter alia, to the timing of judicial intervention, the determination of reform goals and judicial processes and the transplantation of foreign concepts into domestic legal systems (Caplan, 2005; Chesterman, 2004; Stromseth Wippman & Brook, 2006; ICTJ 2007; Stahn, 2008).

Based on past experiences, there is an acknowledged need to revisit the modalities and timing of legal reform and international justice in light of the priorities, interests and legal culture of the respective domestic constituency (’local ownership’)  (Chesterman, 2007; Hansen & Wiharta, 2007). Lessons learned from past UN practice indicate that the sustainability and contribution of justice mechanisms to the broader goal of peace is linked to the population’s confidence in “legitimate structures for the peaceful settlement of disputes” and the “fair administration of justice”.  This vision is reflected in contemporary UN documents, guidelines for post-conflict justice  and advice relating to the prioritisation and targeting of the foreign and development policy of the Netherlands. 

However, few efforts have been made to determine the meaning of the concept in the area of judicial responses to conflict, i.e. to identify the relevant stakeholders and to determine their interests. Even less research has been devoted to the question of whether and how broader ‘local ownership’ can be operationalised, e.g. in what form and procedures ‘domestic’ or ‘local’ interests can be articulated and implemented.

Based on country-specific experiences and population-based surveys (Vinck, Pham, Stover & Weinstein, 2007), it has been argued that the impact and perception of specific justice mechanisms is shaped by three factors: (i) their “input”, i.e.  “procedural and substantive elements” underlining the design of norms and institutions (e.g. inclusiveness, compatibility with universal and domestic values), their “output”, i.e. visible, fair and objective outcome (e.g. justice that “is seen to be done”), and (iii) public confidence and acceptance by the community affected, as demonstrated by ongoing discourse, participation or domestic internalisation (Oomen, 2007).

This project is thematically linked to the research on Complementarity and the ICC.

For further information on this project, please contact Dr. Carsten Stahn, Programme Director, Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, at .

Post-Conflict Justice and Local Ownership

Research Agenda


PCJLO Lecture Series

PCJLO Working Papers







Report SG Rule of Law


NWO Rule of law: Vetting


ICTJ Legacy Hybrid Courts


ICTJ Justice Initiatives


Justice in Conflict


DRC 2008


Uganda 2007


Uganda 2005


Open Society Impact ICTY


SIPRI Local Ownership


Programme Workshop PCJ

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