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Prevalent in current discussions of peace-building are various claims about the ways in which justice-seeking mechanisms - like human rights trials and truth and reconciliation commissions - can quell violent conflict. In fact, ‘transitional justice’ has attained the status of orthodoxy among global peace-promoting actors and international institutions. Though propositions about the pacifying effects of transitional justice mechanisms have swirled about for over a decade, to date very few comprehensive studies have adequately evaluated them. In fact, many ‘realist’ scholars oriented toward producing political order remain justifiably skeptical regarding the impact of transitional justice institutions: what if they actually are destabilizing and cause a relapse into violent conflict? Furthermore, there has been little interaction between legalistic approaches emphasizing ‘unproven possibilities’ and scientific approaches emphasizing ‘empirical realities.’ More specifically, those deeply involved with transitional justice have rarely crossed paths with those enmeshed in conflict studies. We seek to address the lack of hypothesis-testing and dialogue by constructing an integrated model of peace transition, duration, and conflict recurrence that incorporates the newest information on cross-national transitional justice efforts. Utilizing the PRIO dataset, we test the proposition that domestic trials and truth commissions are more effective than political amnesties and repression for producing a lasting peace. Depending on the model chosen, we show that transitional justice mechanisms at worst have no effect, and at best slightly extend the duration of peace following violent conflict. Our findings encourage a reevaluation of the peace v. justice debate, one that moves toward more humility on each side.
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Justice and the Peace: A TimeSensitive Empirical Evaluation
Geoff Dancy
Ph.D. candidate, University of Minnesota
Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm
Instructor, Florida State University
Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Montreal, Quebec,
Canada, March 16-19, 2011.
Prevalent in current discussions of peace-building are various claims about the ways in which
justice-seeking mechanisms--like human rights trials and truth and reconciliation commissions—
can quell violent conflict. In fact, ‘transitional justice’ has attained the status of orthodoxy among
global peace-promoting actors and international institutions. Though propositions about the
pacifying effects of transitional justice mechanisms have swirled about for over a decade, to date
very few comprehensive studies have adequately evaluated them. In fact, many ‘realist’ scholars
oriented toward producing political order remain justifiably skeptical regarding the impact of
transitional justice institutions: what if they actually are destabilizing and cause a relapse into
violent conflict? Furthermore, there has been little interaction between legalistic approaches
emphasizing ‘unproven possibilities’ and scientific approaches emphasizing ‘empirical realities.’
More specifically, those deeply involved with transitional justice have rarely crossed paths with
those enmeshed in conflict studies. We seek to address the lack of hypothesis-testing and dialogue
by constructing an integrated model of peace transition, duration, and conflict recurrence that
incorporates the newest information on cross-national transitional justice efforts. Utilizing the
PRIO dataset, we test the proposition that domestic trials and truth commissions are more effective
than political amnesties and repression for producing a lasting peace. Depending on the model
chosen, we show that transitional justice mechanisms at worst have no effect, and at best slightly
extend the duration of peace following violent conflict. Our findings encourage a reevaluation of
the peace v. justice debate, one that moves toward more humility on each side.
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Even after more than twenty years, the so-called ‘peace versus justice’ debate remains at
the center of the transitional justice field. When political violence comes to an end, warring
factions, transitional governments, the international community, and civil society groups all weigh
the possibility that attempts to address human rights violations during the conflict will reignite
fighting. The global accountability movement’s most visible accomplishment, the International
Criminal Court, performs its work under the banner of “Peace through Justice”. However, its
actions in countries such as Sudan and Uganda have attracted criticism from a growing number of
observers who see justice interventions as harmful to local peacebuilding initiatives. Despite
efforts by the international human rights community to come to terms with its detractors through
theoretical engagement (see Orentlicher 2007, 2010), it remains an open question as to whether or
not justice efforts are destabilizing.
The views of transitional justice supporters and detractors both rest on reasonable logic.
Some argue that measures to address past human rights abuses may make peace more durable by
righting wrongs, removing powerful perpetrators from positions of authority, and providing a
deterrent against future acts of brutality. From this perspective, amnesties are an obstacle to
achieving these goals. The lack of accountability inherent in amnesty laws may frustrate
victimized populations and make them susceptible to bellicose rhetoric. By contrast, others argue
that accountability measures may threaten peace and order. Fighters may be reluctant to lay down
their weapons if threatened with punishment. The revelations of truth commissions may fuel
renewed anger and accentuate intergroup divisions inimical to social cohesion. In this view,
amnesties can exert a calming influence in fragile transitional periods and ultimately contribute to
a more durable peace. Although both cause-effect relationships have some anecdotal support, we
argue that broadly comparative empirics are needed. As Meernik et al. (2010) argue, “[r]igorous
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and empirical testing in the post-conflict environments of nations across time and space has only
recently begun in earnest.” With this piece, we hope to contribute to this discussion.
In this paper, we combine two different academic literatures that commonly speak past one
another. The first is transitional justice, an interdisciplinary literature with strong legal-theoretic
and sociological overtones (see Bell 2009). The second is peace science, a methods-heavy
literature focused on econometric analysis of war onset, war termination, and peace duration (see
Mason 2007). For better or worse, scholarly exchange between these subfields has been minimal,
notwithstanding the fact that each is preoccupied with conflict resolution and peacebuilding. This
resistance is very much an issue of professional and methodological taste. Both groups have been
groping for answers. However, while legal interpretivists have been resistant to quantitative
measures, econometricians have been disinclined to include justice-related variables in their
models of civil war (see Thoms et al 2008, 2010; Dancy 2010).
The opportunity for merging
different approaches is ripe, and the payoff is potentially great. At stake are our baseline
expectations for post-conflict justice, and a potential solution to the ongoing debate about the role
of accountability in promoting peace.
We weigh in on the controversy using a newly available longitudinal dataset.
assembling a month-by-month examination of 205 transitional peace spells over 40 years, our
study presents the most comprehensive analysis to date in terms of data and method, and its
findings uncover a great deal about the impact of various transitional justice mechanisms. In this
paper, we begin by reviewing the findings of existing studies that examine the effect of transitional
justice on the durability of peace. Second, we survey the civil war literature to highlight other
factors previous studies have identified as important in explaining the persistence of peace. Third,
Exceptions include Lie, et al. (2007) and Meernik et al. (2010). This paper will present and critique each of those
This dataset is the product of work that authors have performed alongside research with Kathryn Sikkink and Leigh
Payne at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Geoff Dancy is the NSF project
director at Minnesota, while Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm remains officially unaffiliated. While this specific dataset is the
authors’ construction, all content related to trials has been produced in coordination with the research team at
Minnesota, whom the authors would like to extend special thanks.
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we lay out our method of case selection and the propositions that we wish to test empirically.
Fourth, we explain the model that we use to conduct our analysis. Fifth, we discuss our findings.
Finally, we conclude by discussing the policy implications and suggestions for further research.
Transitional Justice and Lasting Peace
Given the fact that transitional justice mechanisms are designed to address histories of
violence and repression, it is not surprising that they are viewed as important in shaping the
prospects for long-term peace. Yet, there is disagreement over whether transitional justice is
peace-promoting. Most in the legal theory camp believe that transitional justice increases the
probability that violent conflict will not reemerge (Mani 2002; Elster 2004; Gloppen 2005).
Generally speaking, engaging in transitional justice may boost a government’s legitimacy and
dampen public support for social change through the use of force. The hypothesized means
through which transitional justice contributes to peace, however, varies by mechanism. First, some
argue that retributive measures can break cycles of violence through punishment, deterrence, or
symbolic expression of the rule of law (Pankhurst 1999; Akhavan 2001, 2009; Elster 2004; Bass
2005; Kim and Sikkink 2010; for this three-part framework, see Drumbl 2007). Trials, for
example, might reduce conflict by punishing those who were responsible for past violence.
Theoretically, perpetrators’ willingness and ability to instigate further unrest may be hampered by
their incarceration and/or a loss of support resulting from courtroom revelations. Second, truth
commissions may prevent further conflict by recommending reforms that curb the excesses of
security forces and by helping to promote reconciliation among former opponents. Third, trials
and truth commissions both may placate victims’ desire for revenge by providing an
acknowledgment of suffering and a sense of justice for past wrongs. Finally, transitional justice
may play an educational role thereby limiting the ability of spoilers to upset the peace.
Transitional justice processes attempt to produce an authoritative version of history that may
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individualize guilt and discredit institutions and causes that might otherwise foment renewed
violence (Zalaquett 1995).
Despite a wealth of claims in this vain, others from the political order camp contend that
any peace-promoting properties of transitional justice are either nonexistent or better attributed to
other features of transitional societies. In their view, the stabilizing effect of transitional justice is
a result of wishful thinking, principled logics of appropriateness, or legal romanticism. Some
argue that the prospect of transitional justice will keep soldiers on the battlefield, or will derail
ongoing peace negotiations (Aron 1981; Huntington 1993; Fearon 2005; Branch 2007). Others
conclude that transitional justice, trials and truth commissions in particular, raise tensions between
targeted former repressive elements and new civilian leaders (Snyder and Vinjamuri 2003/2004;
see also Long and Brecke 2003; Hadden 2004). Transitional societies often lack the capacity or
the political will to conduct free and fair trials. As such, they may create martyrs or generate new
grievances that could fuel renewed conflict. Amnesties may be essential in these environments to
give fighters an incentive to lay down their arms, or “to encourage lower-level combatants to break
rank” (Freeman 2009: 13; see also Cobban 2007 and Mallinder 2008). Where peace does persist in
post-conflict settings in the absence of amnesties, many critics argue that transitional justice
advocates mistakenly take credit when other factors are responsible. Focusing specifically on truth
commissions, for example, Schiff (2002) contends that supporters are often quick to claim credit
when tensions appear to subside. In particular, critics contend that transitional justice is not
necessarily destabilizing only when conducted in well-established democracies or when amnesties
have been enacted to insulate potential spoilers from punishment (Snyder and Vinjamuri 2003/4).
However, for the most part, the claims from both sides of the controversy have not been
subjected to adequate empirical scrutiny. Transitional justice proponents often make their
assertions based upon normative grounds or impressionistic conclusions drawn from individual
case studies. This has been a commonly repeated criticism of work in this emergent subfield
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(Mendeloff, 2004; Thoms et al, 2008, 2010). Two book volumes have examined assessments of
transitional justice impact (Olsen et al, 2010; Chapman and ver de Merwe, 2009), and a September
2010 special issue of the International Journal of Transitional Justice pointedly confronts
techniques of evaluation. A resounding theme is that even the most systematic pieces in the field
leave much to be desired (see Thoms et al 2010). Snyder and Vinjamuri’s (2003) strongly critical
judgments, for example, are based on a quick and superficial engagement with 32 individual cases.
Similarly, Sikkink and Walling (2007) find a positive influence of trials on human rights and
democracy in Latin America, but only by comparing broad averages of different standard measures
over time. Finally, Olsen et al. (2010:129), in their study of the ‘peace dividend,’ present only a
table with summary statistics linking different mechanisms to conflict recurrence—a strategy also
employed by Dancy (2010). To date, few studies have employed statistical methods sophisticated
enough to fully address the puzzle at hand: whether transitional justice mechanisms lead to a more
or less durable peace.
Two exceptions are Lie et al. (2007) and Meernik et al. (2010). Both studies are broadly
cross-national, allowing the benefit of systematic testing of hypotheses across a large sample of
countries, while controlling for the peace-promoting or peace-inhibiting effects of other variables
identified by the qualitative and quantitative literature on civil war recurrence. Lie et al. (2007)
provide the earliest example of systematic empirical research on the relationship between
transitional justice and peace. They look at all civil war cases, defined by Uppsala-PRIO as a
conflict with 25 or more annual battle-related deaths that occurred between 1946 and 2003. The
study includes a broad range of transitional justice mechanisms from a dataset constructed by
Binningsbø et al. (2005), namely trials, purges, reparations, truth commissions, amnesties, and
exile. Lie et al. find that the way in which the conflict ended (victory or negotiated settlement), is
most important in determining the duration of post-conflict peace. However, they find some
support for the contention that transitional justice helps make peace more durable. Nonetheless,
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the effect of transitional justice is weak and inconsistent depending on the mode of conflict
termination. This is particularly true of trials. Reparations and truth commissions, they conclude,
are more consistently associated with prolonged peace.
While an important first cut at the question, the study has some limitations. First, their
findings with respect to transitional justice rarely approach conventional statistical significance
even at a looser 90% confidence interval. Second, the dataset on which the study is based
(Binningsbø et al. 2005) has not been publicly released so it is difficult to judge the validity of
their conclusions. Relatedly, given that the dataset only goes through 2003, it is missing
observations from more recent years. Finally, while the breadth of the dataset is generally an asset,
this is of more limited use for their analysis. In general, the peace versus justice debate has
focused on accountability-oriented transitional justice mechanisms like trials, truth commissions,
and amnesties. Reparations programs have infrequently been part of these debates. Moreover,
while their inclusion of exile is innovative and theoretically sound, transitional justice discussions
rarely include exile as a mechanism. As a result of these differences, they may not be measuring
transitional justice in the way that transitional justice defenders or critics do. Finally, while the
authors are right to use duration analyses, they at times problematically impose temporal structure
on their dataset when it is unnecessary. For example, they only examine periods of peace that
follow a full two years of successful conflict termination, driving the number of failures down to a
total of 16. We will discuss these and other methodological concerns below.
More recently, Meernik et al. (2010) explore the impact of international tribunals and
domestic trials--as coded by Kim and Sikkink (2008)--on the duration of peace. They also use
Uppsala-PRIO’s civil war data to examine civil wars that ended between 1982 and 2007. They
find no evidence that countries that experience domestic trials or international tribunals are more or
less prone to renewed conflict. Even confining the sample to more democratic states, they find no
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evidence of a statistically significant relationship. It remains an untested possibility that renewed
conflict might have been worse were trials or tribunals not utilized (Meernik et al. 2010: 322).
Like the Lie et al. (2007) paper, this piece also has limitations. First, in contrast to Lie et
al. (2007) or our analysis, they focus on only one type of transitional justice measure, trials. This
limits the ability of researchers to draw conclusions about different accountability mechanisms
instituted in conflict situations. Second, they are really studying the likelihood that any given
country-year with a trial will coincide with a year in which a conflict breaks out (using probit
analysis). In doing so, they treat all observations as completely independent, even if they are in the
same country. Modeling when independent and dependent variable correspond without a
consideration of transitional periods, timing, or context leaves out potentially crucial information.
In an attempt to address these issues, the authors average scores on different variables across a
five-year post-conflict period to move away from ‘yearly snapshots’ (325), but this method, by
aggregating into even bigger chunks of time, drastically reduces the amount of information being
considered in the model, artificially smoothing out variation.
A final note about the empirical studies of transitional justice to date concerns sequencing
and context. Though scholars of late have been emphasizing the order in which mechanisms are
instituted (Fletcher et al 2009), and the holistic context into which they are planted (de Greiff and
Guthie 2009), virtually no empirical studies provide leverage on these topics. For instance, we still
do not know, on average, which mechanisms come first, nor do we know which order produces the
best outcomes. Only by incorporating multiple mechanisms into one study and modeling time can
one begin to address these concerns. In short, a time-sensitive approach is crucial. Even further,
context is usually absent in large cross-national approaches. For instance, dense networks of
amnesty laws (up to 16 in one case), multiple truth commissions of different duration, or various
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types of trials are all treated in the same way: they are coded as 1s in particular country-years.
Before elaborating how we address these concerns, we briefly review the literature on the
durability of peace.
Factors Influencing the Durability of Peace
There is a rich empirical literature on the causes of civil war onset and recurrence. In
trying to determine the independent effect of transitional justice on peace duration, this literature
provides a wealth of alternative explanations for which we should control. The way in which the
previous fighting came to an end is an important factor. In addition, several studies have found
that the nature of the previous conflict influences the likelihood that conflict will reemerge.
Finally, characteristics of the society itself appear to have a significant influence on the durability
of peace.
Characteristics of the Previous Conflict
The nature of the previous conflict plays an important role in the durability of the peace.
Several studies have highlighted the importance of the scale of past violence. Some find that
higher casualty rates reduce the risk of conflict resumption due to exhaustion (Hartzell et al.
2001). On the contrary, others argue that higher casualty figures may harden feelings and make
opponents angrier (Doyle and Sambanis 2000; Walter 2004; Quinn et al 2007). In addition, the
duration of the previous conflict appears to reduce the risk of reemergence as the sides become
exhausted and less confident of victory (Mason & Fett 1996; Sambanis 2000; Fortna 2004; Walter
2004; Quinn et al. 2007). Research in the transitional justice field appears consistent with these
findings on conflict duration. Comparatively short periods of conflict and repression seem more
likely to incite demands for transitional justice (Barahona de Brito et al. 2001; Elster 2004). By
The Philippines has enacted 16 amnesty laws since 1970. Countries with multiple truth commission include Uganda,
Chile, and South Korea. Types of trials include international, foreign, and domestic (see Sikkink, forthcoming).
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contrast, long, protracted conflicts make it harder to conduct transitional justice due to the
difficulty of obtaining evidence, damage to judicial systems and other political institutions,
competing resource demands, and war-weariness.
What was being fought over also appears to be significant, although the literature has not
generated consistent findings. Some studies find that identity conflicts are more likely to simmer
and remain unresolved compared to conflicts fought over ideological differences (Rothchild &
Groth 1995; Kaufmann 1996, 1998). Quinn et al. (2007), by contrast, find that ethnic revolutions
are no more likely to reemerge. Other studies find that secessionist conflicts are more likely to
reemerge because territory often remains not entirely under government control, which allows time
for rebels to regroup (Walter 2004). Quinn et al. (2007), however, find secessionist conflicts are
no more likely to reemerge than other types of conflict. More research is needed to resolve these
Characteristics of Conflict Termination
Several studies have found that the way in which the conflict ended is highly significant in
determining whether conflict will reemerge. Generally speaking, negotiated settlements are less
durable than a battlefield victory by one side of the conflict (Licklider 1995; Walter 1997; Hartzell
and Hoddie 2003). Fortna (2004) also finds that victory reduces the risk of renewed conflict, but
the relationship is less clear after the end of the Cold War. If the parties to the conflict put a halt to
the fighting before one side defeats the others, they each will retain the capacity to resume the
conflict in the future should they choose. Other research has found that transitional justice is more
likely, and is more likely to be retributive in nature, when the balance of forces between the ancien
regime and its opponents is more unequal (Barahona de Brito et al. 2001; Binningsbø et al. 2005).
At the same time, Hartzell and colleagues find that negotiated settlements that result in power-
sharing arrangements are more durable and longer lasting (Hartzell 1999; Hartzell and Hoddie
2003; Hartzell, Hoddie, and Rothchild 2001). Moreover, some research suggests that government
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victory is less stable than rebel victory because the rebels’ original grievances are unlikely to be
addressed in such a scenario. In addition, the rebels can more easily hide and reconstitute
themselves following defeat. All else equal, third party support for settlements appears to make
them more durable (Walter 1999; Fortna 2004; Doyle and Sambanis 2000).
Structural Features of the Polity
Characteristics of the country itself matter. Conflict is less likely to reemerge the more
democratic the post-conflict government is (Hartzell et al. 2001; Hegre et al. 2001; Walter 2004;
Quinn et al. 2007). Some transitional justice scholars also contend that transitional justice
measures are likely to be more effective in more democratic societies (Barahona de Brito et al.
2001; Mendeloff 2004). Walter (2004) contends that the relationship between regime type and
conflict recurrence is nonlinear. Rather, she finds that both clear democracies and autocracies are
at less risk of conflict resumption. Rather, semi-democratic states are at the greatest risk. In
addition, studies typically find that more economically developed countries are at reduced risk of
conflict resumption (Fortna 2004; Walter 2004; Quinn et al. 2007). In wealthier societies,
potential combatants have more to lose from fighting. Moreover, governments are better able to
invest in infrastructure and social programs to dampen dissent. Finally, population size may be
significant. Some studies find that states with larger populations are at greater risk of conflict
resumption because rebels have a larger pool of potential recruits (Fearon and Laitin 2003;
Sambanis 2004). Quinn et al. (2007), however, find to the contrary that larger populations are
associated with lower risk of conflict resumption.
Toward a Synthesis
While it is commonplace to assume that macro-social outcomes of transitional processes
hinge on the “choices successor elites make in dealing with the past” (Huyse 1995:51), it is also
clear from the peace science literature discussed here that clever policy decisions alone are not
enough to ensure a durable peace. The structure in which certain decisions are made must also be
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accounted for. To paraphrase Marx, leaders make their own peace, but they do not make it just as
they please. This tension between structure and agency in transitional moments, we argue, is the
crux of the debate between so-called ‘realists’ and ‘legalists.’ Whereas realists tend to understand
social outcomes to be mostly a function of slow-changing structural configurations, in line with the
early generation of studies of order and political change (see Huntington 1968), legalists tend to
emphasize the progressive change that can be fomented through the establishment of, and
adherence to, new and better rule-based practices. On the one hand, immersed in the peace science
literature, one might come away with a realist sense of resignation, an inclination to ask the
question “what can be done?” If the creation of a more sustainable peace means eliminating
economic imbalances or satisfying separatist grievances, both sticky factors, then policy choices in
the short-term are hard to come by. On the other hand, immersed in the transitional justice
literature, one might be fooled into thinking that options are limitless, or in turn be immobilized by
the dizzying array of ambitious short-term propositions. For every theoretical or empirical claim
concerning the beneficial social potential of a transitional justice accountability mechanism, there
is a counterclaim cautioning of the dangers of unintended consequences. Together, these make for
boundless, ungrounded policy thinking.
Hence the persistent call for better empirics and baseline expectations. We endeavor to
answer this call with the soundest method we can muster, and to do so while bringing along as
little theoretical baggage as possible. First, we do not privilege any particular transitional justice
accountability measure. Second, we conduct our empirical tests with ‘flat priors,’ so to speak.
What this means is that we do not make hypotheses about the causal or directional effects of any
particular variable. In effect, we are conducting a host of two-tailed tests, obviating the need for an
extensive presentation of hypotheses.
Third, much like those who conduct Bayesian analyses, we
This has the added benefit of allowing us not to reject as wholly insignificant those variables that have a strong effect
but in the opposite direction to that expected.
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intend to learn directly from the data, rather than imposing deductive, theory-laden assumptions on
the dataset we have collected.
The next section elucidates the method we use for creating models
that integrate the assertions of the peace science and transitional justice literatures.
Case Selection and Variables
Case Selection
The purpose of this study is to uncover the effects of transitional justice mechanisms on the
duration of peace. To conduct any empirical test, a methodologically sound sample must be
selected. However, when dealing with issues of transitional justice, case selection is a thorny issue.
The reason is that the concept of transition is an intellectual construct less settled than others like
state, economy, or year. A transition can only be labeled as such post-hoc. Moreover, embedded in
the subfield are ambiguities over what “a state is supposed to be transitioning to” (Leebaw
2008:101). While some authors look specifically at countries transitioning to consolidated
democracy (Kritz 1995, Teitel 2000, Kim and Sikkink 2010), others examine only those that have
recently experienced violent conflict or atrocity (Bassiouni 2002, Meernik et al. 2010). Still others
inadvertently choose to analyze some combination of both types of cases (Snyder and Vinjamuri
2003/4, Backer 2009).
In fact, “just about every comparative assessment of transitional justice
effects examines a different universe of cases” (Dancy 2011). Our way to address this problem is
to lean toward inclusion, and to avoid throwing out cases that do not fit a particular mold.
First, we identify and include all peace spells that followed either a democratic transition or
a conflict termination.
A peace spell is a period of time within a country in which 25 or fewer
Of course, it is impossible to completely remove theory from the process of dataset construction, primarily because
many difficult decisions must be made along the way. However, we do our best both to explain these decisions and to
attempt various codings, operationalizations, and model implementations. We borrow the term ‘theory-laden’ from
John Freeman, who uses it in his lectures on time series analysis.
Some, like Backer (2009), even look at cases that are generally considered neither democratic or conflict transitions.
“Democratic transition” is defined as either of two phenomena based on Polity IV data: state formation into a
democratic polity (ex. Bosnia) or a 3-point increase on the Polity II scale in a given year. “Post-conflict transition” is
13 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
total battle deaths per year occur as a result of internal or internationalized internal conflict
(Gleditsch et al 2002).
The justification for observing peace spells in both democratic and
conflict transitions is that scholarship predicts potentially adverse effects for accountability
mechanisms on sustainable peace in either instance. In other words, for us the presence of a
previous conflict is not a sufficient condition for the onset of a new conflict because democratic
change might also usher in violence, especially if all actors do not accept democracy as the only
game in town. Additionally, selecting cases in this way allows us to test for the effects of
transitional justice on the duration of peace spells following only democratic transitions, following
only post-conflict transitions, or following both simultaneously. Second, we choose to examine the
period 1970-2009. Starting our sample in 1970 allows us to capture the period shortly before the
beginning of the third wave of democratization while also allowing us to avoid including decades
of observations where human rights-related policies would not have been pursued because such
policies were not yet practiced.
Third, unconventionally, we measure our dependent variable, peace spell duration, in
months rather than years. One reason for this choice is that most of the data on which we construct
our variables is recorded by month, and sometimes even by day. The second reason is that
aggregating to the year level obscures extremely important monthly variation. For instance, in
most analyses, the period of peace between the Arusha Accords in August 1993 and the onset of
the Rwandan genocide in April 1994 would be ignored because there were at least 25 battle-related
deaths from conflict in each year. However, in our analysis, this would be a peace spell of seven
months followed by a peace failure. One final reason for this decision is that, as a general rule,
any period following the termination of conflict involving state forces that reached 25 total battle deaths on the PRIO
scale (see Gleditsch et al, 2002).
We rely on the definition by the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Project, which defines a conflict as “a contested
incompatibility that concerns government and/or territory where the use of armed force between two parties, of which
at least one is the government of a state, results in at least 25 battle-related deaths” (See UCDP codebook).
We are aware of issues caused by left-truncated data, though left-truncated is the norm in social science rather than the
exception. Still, we include variables that help us model the stock of factors that different cases inherit from left-
censored periods.
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temporal aggregation, as opposed to fine-grained disaggregation, is a recipe for losing valuable
information and weakening the robustness of statistical findings (see Freeman 1989). Furthermore,
we impose no time limits on a spell for it to count. Whereas Lie et al. (2007) only include peace
spells that last for at least two years, we treat any period of peace as significant.
Independent Variables
Following the literatures we reviewed above, we split 21 potentially influential independent
variables into four groups, which we order by sequential relevance. Group 1 includes
characteristics of the previous conflict, and Group 2 includes characteristics of the conflict’s
termination. These first two groups, because they precede the beginning of each peace spell,
remain static over the duration of the peace spell. For this reason, they do not vary with time (i.e.
they are not ‘time-varying covariates’). For example, if a violent conflict ended with a government
victory, the following peace spell would be coded “1” for its entire duration. This type of coding
is theoretically justified by the voluminous amount of work that highlights the path-forming nature
of peace settlements and the balance of forces at the transition. For the variables in these groups,
we use straightforward operationalizations that follow convention practice (See Table 1).
However, one variable that requires some additional explication is ‘Risk Set’. We utilize
this variable to capture the patterns of conflict and peace in each country over time. Risk Set is
used to delineate how many previous transitional peace spells a country has experienced. The first
post-conflict or democratic transition peace spell that a country undergoes during the 1970-2009
period is scored as “1” during the duration of the spell. If a conflict recurs, then ends, the
following peace spell is coded as “2”, and so on down the line. In our sample, the highest number
for Risk Set is 6 for Senegal. That is, five times Senegal experienced a violent conflict that ended
and was followed by a peace spell. We utilize Risk Set to control for the relative proneness of
some countries to be serially conflictual.
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In our model, Groups 3 and 4 include time-varying covariates (TVCs), meaning that their
value can change in the midst of a peace spell. Group 3 incorporates variables measuring the stock
of accountability mechanisms in the country over time, and Group 4 includes structural features of
the polity. Groups 4, like Groups 1 and 2, uses standard measures to describe different
characteristics of the country. Group 3 includes the variables that capture the effects of
accountability mechanisms. Below, we provide a more in-depth explanation of how we
operationalize these variables.
a. Amnesties
The first variable is cumulative number of amnesty laws that a country has enacted in the
sample period. Mark Freeman (2009:13) defines an amnesty law as an “extraordinary legal
measure whose primary function is to remove the prospect and consequences of criminal liability
for designated individuals or classes of persons in respect of designated types of offenses
irrespective of whether the persons concerned have been tried for such offenses in a court of law.”
Louise Mallinder’s Amnesty Law Database catalogues such laws (274 laws are included in our
dataset) down to the day of passage. While amnesties differ widely in their intention, their target,
and the crimes that they excuse, we group them together because any amnesty, we believe,
generally seeks to serve as a safety valve for grievances that could fester and lead to conflict
activity on the part of peace spoilers (on spoilers, see Stedman 1997). Again, while some would
predict that carefully timed amnesty laws could assuage the impulse to keep fighting, others see
amnesty laws as an unnecessary legal barrier to demands for retribution. In short, amnesties could
feasibly have either a positive, calming effect, or a negative, frustration-inducing effect.
Regardless, we might comfortably assume that the more such laws that exist on the books, the
greater the magnitude of whichever effect is present.
b. Truth Commissions
The second variable is cumulative years of truth commission operations. A truth commission
16 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
is a newly established and temporary commission officially sanctioned by the state, whose
mandate includes investigative powers, which at some point operated to investigate a pattern of
abuses to personal integrity rights that occurred over a period of time, some which were
perpetrated by state actors” (adapted from Dancy, et al. 2010). Truth commissions have lasted as
long as 11 years, though the average is closer to 1.5 years. For every truth commission in the
world, we document the month in which it started operating, and the month in which it ceased
operations. For each addition year of operation, our variable was scored one point higher
(rounding up for each period over 6 months). Some suspect that truth commissions, by providing
victims with information and official recognition, serve as a salve for a restless society emerging
from an abusive period. Others think that truth commissions simply provide a bandaid for wounds
left in the body politic, leaving them to fester in the future. Either way, truth commissions that last
longer are more likely to have an impact because they have more time to accomplish their tasks,
they attract more attention, and they become more socially resonant.
c. Domestic Trials
Most studies of transitional justice do not sufficiently separate out different trial-related
phenomena. Following Sikkink (2011), we include three different types of trials—domestic,
international, and foreign. Unlike some other studies, we place strict criteria on what qualifies a
trial as an accountability mechanism. For example, Lie et al. (2007) count any trials that followed
a conflict transition. Olsen et al. (2010) count all high-profile court verdicts that followed
democratic transition. Each of these studies falters by including trials that might not use fair
procedures, that are not necessarily related to human rights crimes, and that might consist of show
trials for political crimes. By contrast, Kim and Sikkink (2010) only count human rights-related
domestic judicial activity in a county, and do so even if it did not produce a verdict.
We find this
The authors write, “To be included in the data set, the prosecution activity discussed in the report must inflict costs
on a government agent accused of having individual criminal responsibility for human rights violations. Some of our
17 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
to be a useful approach to follow. As realists would have it, domestic trials risk not only
overburdening already over-taxed judiciaries (Cobban 2007), but also stirring up trouble with those
holdover elements from the previous conflict who do not want to be targeted by a transitional
regime. Legal supporters would reply that domestic trials strengthen the rule of law, potentially
reviving a dormant judicial branch of government (Smulovitz 2002), and interrupt conflict patterns
by targeting those responsible for instigating mass violence. Like the other mechanisms, we
expect more domestic trial activity to have a more pronounced effect on the durability of peace
over time.
d. International trials
Though scholars usually support or attack trials in the abstract, much of the debate really
centers on the role of international courts—both ad-hoc tribunals and the International Criminal
Court. International courts are lightning rods for criticism because they represent starkly outside,
‘Western’ intervention into the affairs of sovereign states and cultures. Some see such
interventions as not only neo-imperial, but meddlesome and counter-productive because they halt
naturally unfolding peace processes (Tully 2005; Turner 2008; Subotić 2009; Branch 2007; Fiss
2009). Others argue that positive, though incremental, changes have been ushered in through the
operation of such courts, which have inspired moves toward victim satisfaction in the former
Yugoslavia (Nettelfield 2010; Orentlicher 2010) and peace in African states (Akhavan 2009). In
cross-national empirical research, only two studies have even begun to incorporate international
trials into empirical studies. Whereas Meernik et al. (2010) observe only those countries subject to
ad-hoc court jurisdiction (the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, and
Indonesia). Kim and Sikkink (2010) include these plus Cambodia and those countries that have
trials involve former heads of state and high-level officials, but trials of lower level officials including police officers
and prison guards are also included. Prosecutions can be initiated either by governments themselves or by individuals
or groups. In common law countries, only governments initiate criminal prosecutions, but in some civil law systems,
victims and groups representing victims acting as ‘private prosecutors’ may initiate criminal proceedings either
directly or indirectly” (Kim and Sikkink 2010:248).
18 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
been investigated by the International Criminal Court—Uganda, the Sudan, the DRC, and Kenya.
We follow the latter strategy, and as with the other justice-related variables, we count up for every
year that a country is subject to internationalized trial proceedings.
e. Foreign Trials
A final type of judicial activity that we include in our analysis is prosecution through foreign trials,
which involve one state’s efforts to prosecute citizens of another state under international human
rights treaty law. Universal jurisdiction is often confused with the officially authorized jurisdiction
of international courts, but it is a fundamentally distinct process. Few have endeavored to
document all uses of universal jurisdiction, but we include up to 18 different countries whose
citizens have been tried by foreign courts. Where Kim and Sikkink (2010) lump these together
with international trials, we keep them separate in order to observe any unique impacts associated
with foreign trials specifically. One of the most influential books written on transitional justice,
The Pinochet Effect, concerns the way in which a universal jurisdiction case initiated by Spain
against Augusto Pinochet jump-started judicial activity in Chile (Roht-Arriaza 2005). Left
unaddressed is how foreign trials might influence peace. One possibility is that foreign trials could
indict human rights abusers in the midst of intractable conflict, or during times when it is unlikely
that domestic courts will have the capital or the inclination to do so themselves. On the other hand,
Goldsmith and Krasner (2003:51) argue, with little substantiation, that ‘‘a universal jurisdiction
prosecution may cause more harm than the original crime it purports to address.’’ We weigh in on
this debate by considering the independent effect of foreign trials on the duration of peace spells.
19 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
Table 1. Variables Groups with Descriptions and Source Information
Variable Name Explanation Source
1 Duration of Conflict A count of the total months that the preceding conflict lasted from beginnging to end
2 Government Conflict Whether the prior conflict was fought over the political system or government rule
3 Territorial Conflict Whether the prior conflict was fought over terrorial or secessionist aims
4 Maximum Number of Conflicts The maximum number of armed oppositions fighting during the previous conflict period
5 Maximum Intensity The maximum fighting intensity reached during the previous conflict period (0-2)
6 Risk Set A marker indicating how many previous at-risk peace spells have existed in the country
7 Government Victory Whether the conflict ended with a government victory
8 Rebel Victory Whether the conflict ended with a rebel victory
9 Ceasefire Agreement Whether the conflict was terminated by a ceasefire
Cessation through Low Conflict
Whether the conflict ended simply through the cessation of conflict
11 Peace Agreement Whether it was ended by a peace agreement
12 UN Peacekeeping Operation Whether the spell featured a UN Peacekeeping Operation UN website
13 Cumulative Amnesty Laws
How many amnesty laws the country had in the sample time period. Counts upward and
sustains score for each additional law.
Mallinder's Amnesty
Law Database
14 Cumulative Truth Commission Years
How many years of truth commission operation the country had in the sample period
following the first operating month. Counts upward and sustains for each additional truth
commission year.
Dancy et al (2010);
Hayner (2010)
15 Cumulative Domestic Trial Years
How many years of domestic trials the country had in the sample period following the first
operating month. Counts upward and sustains for each additional domestic trial year.
16 Cumulative International Trial Years
How many years of international trials to which the country was subject in the sample
period following the first operating month. Counts upward and sustains for each
additional international trial year.
17 Cumulative Foreign Trial years
How many years of foreign trials to which the country was subject in the sample period
following the first operating month. Counts upward and sustains for each additional
foreign trial year.
18 Regime Type Polity II 20-point regime-type index
19 Regime Type Squared Polity II 20-point regime-type index squared
20 Total Population (logged) The log of the country's total population
21 GDP per capita (logged) The country's wealth measured in GDP per capita (2000 US Dollars), logged
Group 1:
of Previous
Group 2:
of Conflict
Group 3:
Stock of
Group 4:
Polity IV
World Bank Databank
Transitional Justice
Database Project
20 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
A Note on the Coding of Transitional Justice Variables
Before we move onto the presentation of method and our findings, we issue a note about
the choice to include cumulative year scores for each of the mechanisms, a technique we refer to
as sustained coding. To illustrate the nature of the coding scheme, we look first at Chile.
Because Chile has had the most domestic trials for former junta members, it has the largest
number of trial years—19—by 2009. What this means is that since its first trial in 1991, Chile
has had at least one trial in 19 different years.
We know from Collins’ (2010) extensive data
collection project that the raw number of domestic trials is actually much higher. In terms of
coding, this variable counts upward as the country experiences more trials; each new year with a
trial, the number increases by one unit for all following months. The same cumulative coding
rule applies for number of truth commission years and number of amnesty laws.
An additional
feature of the coding for these variables is that after activity stops, each following month is still
coded that number until activity resumes or the last month of the dataset, December of 2009, is
The somewhat unorthodox coding scheme used for these variables is theoretically
necessary for a few reasons. First, because these institutional mechanisms are arguably more
effective when they are given time and resources to function properly, a larger number of years
of operation indicates deeper institutionalization and a more thorough fulfillment of the
mechanism’s mandate. Therefore, cumulative coding is needed to capture the varying degrees to
We use ‘years’ because we do not have a raw count of actual trials, and counting up by each month following
initial trial activity would artificially inflate the magnitude
The only difference here is that amnesty laws themselves, not the duration of amnesty laws, is counted. To date,
no data exists on the duration of such laws. Because they are legal enactments, we treat them as if they have a
lasting effect throughout the period following their passage.
The only drawback to this method is that it creates what we refer to as the ‘straddler problem.’ Because variables
with sustained coding can roll over from one peace spell to a following conflict spell, then onto another peace spell,
it means that the effect of the mechanism straddles different transitional periods. This problem is most pronounced
for truth commissions, which are temporary bodies that do not continue to operate in the future, as trials and
amnesties do. There are only five straddlers. Two, Central African Republic and Uganda ’86, are coded across
multiple spells, where Haiti, Nepal, and Nigeria inherit truth commissions from previous conflict periods. We test
the effects of alternate coding for truth commissions in Model 5.
21 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
which a transitional justice mechanism has been socially embedded. Second, like realist studies
that emphasize the path-dependent nature of former policies or structural configurations, we
suppose that these institutions have cachet, leaving a legacy that continues to exert an effect over
time. This is why we label this group ‘stock variables.’
If sustained scoring was not used, the
combined, additive effects of accountability mechanisms over time would be ignored. Third,
methodologically speaking, sustained coding heavily weights those cases in which more trial-
years have been observed, which is appropriate given that those cases are by all accounts the
ones that have the highest raw number of trials. In short, the number of trial years is a good
proxy for the total number of trials. Now that our coding decisions have been explained, we turn
to a presentation of our findings, which are various and, at times, surprising. We first discuss
two hot-button issues—context and sequencing—and then proceed to a detailed exploration of
our empirical findings.
Context and Sequencing
One regrettable thing about complex statistical presentations is that they typically leave
out useful descriptive summaries that address long-standing questions. For example, in what
context are different mechanisms most likely to be instituted? Table 2 shows summaries of
each accountability mechanism across country contexts. We observe the country-month in
which each type of mechanism was established. For amnesties, we count every single law that
was passed. For truth commissions and trials, we count only the first instance of each. The
columns represent the various contexts in which the five different mechanisms are set up. What
John Gerring et al. (2005), in a related fashion, argue that democracy should be coded as a stock variable, meaning
that its scores should accumulate over time.
22 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
ultimately emerges is a fairly diverse spread. Generally speaking, though, a few patterns are
visible. First, all of the mechanisms are more prevalent in peace spells following negotiated
settlements, and least likely after rebel victories. (The only exception is amnesty laws, which are
most likely to follow government victories in internal conflict.) This finding we might expect
because issues of how to reckon with former abuses commonly arise during unfolding processes
of negotiation between previously warring parties. Second, all of the mechanisms are more
common to peace spells following democratic transitions, but roughly half are initiated during
non-democratizing peace spells or during resumed conflict periods. Unexpectedly, Table 2
demonstrates how much is missed when only democratic transitions are studied. It also suggests
that modeling strategies should take into account the potential for peace durability to differ with
peace spell context.
Table 2. Context in which Accountability Mechanisms are Instituted
Peace Spell
Peace spell
Amnesty Law
28 (16)* 38 (21) 13 (9) 101 (48) 68 (38) 108 (35)
Truth Commiss ion
7 7 4 25 (23) 6 (5) 6
Dome stic Trial
Inte rnational Trial
Foreign Trial
* The first figure is the raw total, and the figure in parentheses is total number of country cases
**Because the paper is about peace spells, mechanisms in this column, which occur during resumed conflict spells, are
excluded from the statistical analyses.
After During
“After” means that the mechanisms followed the categorized type of conflict resolution. “During” means that the mechanism was
using in the midst of the categorized
23 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
Beyond context, a second question is, in what order are these mechanisms normally
established? Table 3 presents cross-national data on the number of months into peace spells, on
average, when each mechanism is adopted. For all cases, international intervention has the
lowest average score, meaning that it is most likely to happen first in any given context. This is
not surprising given that the international community moved quickly to address crimes against
humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia after the fighting was finished. Overall,
amnesties and domestic trials have initiation times that are very close—within a year of one
another. On average, they are both instituted around five to six years into peace spells. This
relationship holds irrespective of context. Tellingly, amnesties always precede trials, which
Table 3. Average months into peace spells until the first instance of each mechanism
Mean Min Max N
1 394 41
Truth Commissions
1 353 30
Domestic Trials
1 349 37
Internationa l Trials
Fore ign Tria ls
15 373 15
2 263 17
Truth Commissions
1 322 24
Domestic Trials
1 349 35
Internationa l Trials
14 49 3
Fore ign Tria ls
15 373 11
1 294 24
Truth Commissions
2 271 6
Domestic Trials
1 176 21
Internationa l Trials
Fore ign Tria ls
25 323 4
In democratizing
peace spells
In non-
peace spells
gives us some leverage on the question of typical sequencing. While some have speculated that
recent increases in the number of amnesties represent a broad effort to counter the justice
cascade (Olsen et al. 2010), Kathryn Sikkink (2011) has consistently argued that trials in fact are
24 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
a response to impunity-protecting amnesties. Our data hint that the latter account appears more
accurate. Our findings also may indicate that trial activity was enabled only through the stability
produced by an amnesty. However, this seems less likely. Because amnesties are not typically
enacted until a full five years into a peace spell, it does not stand to reason that they are part of a
first response to conflict resolution. Amnesties, like justice mechanisms, do not enter the
transitional equation until years after the onset of peace. Truth commissions, it is evident, are
comparatively slow to develop. The average timing of a truth commission is over eight years
into peace spells. In some ways, this should make us skeptical of the conventional wisdom that
truth commissions are primarily used as a delay tactic to divert attention away from other forms
of justice. Of course, we would hesitate to make grand conclusions based on these data, which
are patterns without trends. These are basic averages across a number of cases and over several
decades. The only way to satisfactorily address issues of sequencing is to create case-by-case
timelines. That does not mean, however, that time cannot be precisely modeled within analyses
of transitional justice impact. That is a task, we argue, for which hazard models are uniquely
Duration Analysis
The dependent variable for our analysis is the duration of peace in months. From our
dataset, we isolate 205 peace spells (across 117 countries) that have followed either the
termination of a previous internal war or the beginning of a democratic transition (See Figure 1).
Because we are interested in observing the length of time a peace spell ‘survives’ without
violence again erupting, we employ event history methods (aka. duration analysis), which allows
us to model not only if the peace spell ‘fails’ but also when it fails (See Figure 1 for survival
estimates over time). Like Lie et al. (2007), we estimate the influence of our four groups of
25 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
independent covariates on peace spell failure rates using a Cox proportional hazard model.
treat each peace spell as a single event that either ends with the resumption of conflict (failure) or
December 2009, the last month in our dataset.
The latter are ‘right-censored’ observations,
which are accounted for in the likelihood function (see Box-Steffensmeier and Jones 2004).
Positive coefficients in our model indicate that the covariate increases the log hazard rate, i.e. a
unit increase in the independent variable makes a recurrence of conflict more likely. Conversely,
a negative coefficient means that the hazard rate is falling with an upward change in the
covariate. Finally, both quantitative and qualitative work on transitional justice has presumed
that there are strong regional effects on both the choice to institute accountability mechanisms
and on the outcomes that they produce (e.g. Clark 2010, Olsen et al. 2010, Kim and Sikkink
2010). For this reason, we estimate our models clustering by region, and we report adjusted,
robust standard errors.
Figure 1. Description of peace spell data and charted survival estimate
Peace Spells 205
Number of Countries 117
Total months at risk 25,758
Median # of months at risk 80
Mean # of months at risk 127
Minimum # of months at risk 2
Maximum # of months at risk 463
Conflict Failures 112
0.00 0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00
0 100 20 0 300 40 0 500
an alys is time
Kaplan-Meier survival estimate
Cox models are semi-non-parametric, meaning that they allow the modeler to make fewer assumptions about the
distribution of failure times or the baseline failure rate (see Box-Steffensmeier and Jones 2004).
The use of single events brings with it the problematic assumption that various peace spells in the same country are
independent of one another. We would prefer to use repeated events using conditional risk analysis to account for
this. However, because peace spells do not directly follow one another in time—due to the presence of interim
conflict periods—this mode of analysis is unusable. We control for the effects of multiple spells per country by
including the risk set variable, which identifies those spells that are repeated events within our sample. We also
include variables that are unique to the country over time.
26 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
Table 5. Cox proportional Hazard Models Results with Coefficients and Robust Standard Errors
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Model 5
Full model
Full mode l
without GDP
or population
Model 2 in
Model 2 in peace
spells without
Model 2 with
different TC
Duration of Conflict
Government Conflict
Territorial Conflict
Maximum Number of Conflicts
Maximum Intensity
Risk Set
Government Victory
Rebel Victory
Ceasefire Agreement
Cessation through Low Conflict
Peace Agreement
UN Peacekeeping Operation
Cumulative Amnesty Laws
Cumulative Truth Commission Years
Cumula tive Dome stic Tria l Yea rs
Cumula tive Internationa l Trial Years
Cumulative Foreign Trial years
Polity 2
Polity 2 Squared
Log Population
Log GDP per capita
Number of subjects 186 204 115 105 204
Number of failures 95 112 50 62 112
Time at Risk 23240 25495 15283 10212 25495
Log Likelihood -411.398 -498.485 -180.428 -225.692 -499.433
*p > 0.10 ** p > 0.05 *** p > 0.01
27 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
Table 5 reports the results of five models we specified to integrate factors from the
transitional justice and peace science literatures. Model 1 includes all 21 variables described
above. Of those characteristics of the previous conflict (Group 1), we see that only the
maximum number of conflicts and maximum intensity are statistically significant; what the
conflict was fought over (government or territory) does not prove influential. In other words, if
state forces previously had to war against more than one armed group simultaneously, then
whatever peace is established is more likely to break down. Each additional previous conflict
increased the likelihood of failure by 62.5%. Moreover, for each additional level of fighting
intensity in the previous conflict period, the failure rate increased by 36.8%. In short, higher
frequency and greater intensity of previous fighting made for unsettled peace spells, though the
length of the conflict and the nature of the grievance did not. Of those characteristics of conflict
termination (Group 2), only government victory effects the duration of following peace spells,
and it does so in highly significant fashion. Peace spells following government victories were
approximately 1.2 times less likely to revert to violent conflict in the future.
The transitional justice stock variables (Group 3) perform surprisingly well in the model,
proving to have both substantively and statistically significant effects. There is little evidence to
indicate that either international or foreign trials alter the course of peace spells, perhaps because
there are so few of each type. However, amnesty laws, truth commissions, and domestic trials all
prove influential. For every additional amnesty law that a country has passed, the risk of conflict
recurrence increases by 11.4%. That is, contrary to many claims that amnesties are order-
promoting, on average they seem to do little to assuage the impulse to take up arms.
commissions, perhaps most surprisingly, have almost the exact same effect as amnesty laws. For
Our interpretation here is still speculative because we have not done enough to distinguish between different types of amnesties.
This is a future direction in which we hope to take the research (see conclusion).
28 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
every additional year that a truth commission operates in a country, the survival time for peace
decreases by around 10.5%. This provides some validation to those skeptics who have
stringently critiqued the ‘baseless’ empirical assumptions that inform the truth-telling-as-
reconciliation model (e.g. Mendeloff 2004). Finally, domestic trials appear to exert an effect
opposite to that of amnesties and truth commissions. For every additional trial year a
government produces, the risk of conflict recurrence decreases by 10.6%. Taken together, these
results suggest that, in line with weaker findings produced by Lie et al. (2007), retributive modes
of justice are more effective for resolving conflict, whereas truth-telling and legal immunity are
more likely to exacerbate tensions.
Finally, variables measuring structural features of the polity also achieve significance.
The squared measure of regime type (Polity2) is statistically significant and negative. This
indicates that both strong autocracies and strong democracies are at lower risk of conflict
resumption. For every unit increase in the squared term, which can reach as high as 100, the
failure rate decreases by 0.9%. A country’s total population also seems to make a difference.
The larger the population, the more likely a peace spell is to break down. The presence of more
people creates more opportunities for grievances to (re)emerge. GDP per capita, while close to
the conventional .05 benchmark for significance, falls short. However, the direction indicates
that, if anything, wealth bolsters the duration of peace.
While Model 1 performs very well, and does not violate the proportional hazard
we still have qualms about the full specification. The reason is that 18 peace spells
are dropped because of missing GDP and population data from the World Bank. As a corrective,
we exclude these variables and re-run the analysis to produce the results listed under Model 2.
We tested this using a global chi-square test, which was statistically insignificant (p-value = 0.254), indicating that
the hazard assumption holds.
29 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
As is evident from Table 5, the model produces similar results to Model 1--with minor changes
in magnitude for the variables of interest—except that two additional variables become
significant. The first is territorial conflict, and the second is the Polity 2 measure. One might
suppose from this that democracy and territorial grievance are in some ways a function of wealth
and population, which is not far-fetched. But because we are able to model more information by
excluding the latter, we prefer Model 2 to Model 1.
Models 3 and 4 use the same variables as Model 2, but they focus on a subset of cases
based on the nature of the political transition. Model 3 is run only on those peace spells
following democratic transitions (including those that are simultaneously post-conflict). By
contrast, Model 4 is run only on those peace spells where democratic institutionalization is not
taking place. We do this to observe the effect of the variables in disparate transitional contexts.
In Model 3, the intensity of previous fighting drops out, as do amnesty laws. This indicates that
in those countries transitioning into more democratic forms of governance, the extremity of
previous violence and the presence of laws guaranteeing impunity no longer incite conflict,
perhaps because those with nagging grievances have other avenues for political participation or
conflict resolution. Such speculation is supported when we compare the findings to Model 4,
wherein amnesty laws again become salient and negative, increasing the failure rate by 36% per
law. What this means is that peace spells in countries where democracy is absent or not formally
institutionalized are more sensitive to laws leaving old grievances unaddressed. It is also worth
noting that while the effect of domestic trials is magnified in Model 3, international trials and
foreign trials also prove statistically significant. International trials are supportive of a more
stable peace, but foreign trials create more risk of conflict recurrence. In Model 4, none of these
effects are present. The lesson to be drawn from this comparison is that institutions of strong
30 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
accountability and retributive justice, either domestic or international, are peace-promoting in
those places where they are proceeding along with other democratic institutional developments.
By contrast, truth commissions in cases of democratic transition are counter-productive, as are
efforts from individual foreign states to attempt to impose justice from the outside.
Democratizing peoples, it seems, favor firmer justice to airing of ‘truths,’ and they prefer that
justice be provided by their own governments or organs of the United Nations. Finally, Model 3
also shows that even rebel victories preceding democratic peace spells lower the risk of future
violence, as do ceasefire agreements. One might surmise that this indicates a greater satisfaction
in nascent democracies with whichever group or method accomplished the feat of conflict
termination. In the non-democracies represented by Model 4, however, only government victory
is powerful enough to lower the risk of future outbreaks of violence.
Finally, Model 5 repeats Model 2 for the full sample, except it substitutes the truth
commission variable used in Models 1-4 with an alternate measure. The alternate measure,
alluded to in footnote 12, does not sustain truth commission year coding beyond the spell in
which a truth commission completed it operations. Unlike trials and amnesty laws, which have
more continuous properties, truth commission operation is a discrete institutional event with a
finite end. When we switch measures and re-run the model, all of the variables remain consistent
with Model 2, with the exception of Polity squared and the new truth commission variable,
which changes direction and loses significance. This makes us highly suspicious of our truth
commission findings, but also of our regime type findings. Although we checked for
correlations between these variables and others, finding none that were abnormally high, we
remain unsure of the stability of the findings regarding truth commissions especially. Thus, we
caution against grand theoretical inferences based on this particular set of results.
31 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
Discussion and Conclusion
Our findings suggest a more nuanced view of the peace versus justice debate and suggest
several policy recommendations. First, most human rights trials are less risky than many assume.
Contrary to other cross-national studies, we find domestic trials to be consistently associated
with more durable periods of peace. They do not appear to exacerbate tensions or generate new
grievances, at least not to the extent of leading to renewed violence that leads to 25 or more
battle-related deaths in a given year. Given that the risk of conflict resumption falls with each
additional year of domestic trials, it also suggests that populations become increasingly
accustomed to trials as they continue rather than become increasingly restive. International(ized)
tribunals are peace promoting when they follow democratic transitions; following non-
democratic transitions, conflict is no more likely if the international community establishes a
tribunal. Foreign trials, by contrast, increase the risk of conflict resumption in democratizing
Second, truth commissions should be approached carefully. In particular, extended truth
commissions should be avoided. The finding that truth commissions are uniformly associated
with greater risk of conflict recurrence is surprising from the point of view of transitional justice
advocates. However, they appear to be consistent with other research that connects truth
commissions to lower levels of human rights protection (Olsen et al. 2010; Wiebelhaus-Brahm
2010). Given how we measure truth commissions, the results are consistent with Hayner’s
(2010) policy prescription that truth commissions be implemented quickly and for relatively
short periods of time after transitions. Long, drawn-out investigations often reflect insufficient
resources and cooperation to complete the job. This may generate resentment among those who
want justice done, while emboldening others to utilize violence to achieve their goals. If created,
32 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
truth commissions should be granted sufficient financial and personnel resources to plan and
conduct an investigation relatively quickly. Nonetheless, other measurement strategies may
influence the results.
Third, amnesty laws do not enhance the prospects of peace, as many suggest. Amnesty
laws are associated with a greater risk of conflict resumption, particularly in the context of non-
democratic transitions. This suggests that amnesty laws that are enacted by non-democratic
governments are less credible in their substance or implementation. Moreover, more frequent use
of amnesty laws seems to send a message of weakness and encourages the resumption of
conflict. Still, while repeatedly confirmed in the statistical results, the negative impact of
amnesties is preliminary. The reason is that different types of amnesties—those that release
political prisoners, those that target former combatants, or those that shield high-level officials
from prosecution—need to be separated in the data. Future research might explore how
differences in who is targeted by amnesty laws influence their lasting effects.
Our findings suggest that the international community should be concerned with only
certain types of transitional justice interventions. Perhaps due to their perceived legitimacy or the
international community’s ability to coerce parties given UN troop presence in countries that
have tribunals, international tribunals and hybrid courts do not jeopardize peace. In fact, they
make peace more durable in democratizing societies. At the same time, our findings suggest that
individual governments should be cautious in their use of universal jurisdiction. Particularly in
democratizing countries, foreign trials place peace in greater jeopardy.
As Meernik et al. (2010) correctly point out, there are one or more ways in which
transitional justice measures might affect the duration of peace. First, transitional justice may
lead to legal and institutional reforms that promote peace. These properties are most closely with
33 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
truth commissions. Our finding that truth commissions are associated with increased risk of
conflict resumption may be an indication of the poor implementation record of truth commission
recommendations. Second, transitional justice may remove perpetrators of mass violence from
positions of authority. Trials do this most directly; it appears that at least domestic and
international trials may contribute to eliminating spoilers. By contrast, truth commissions and
amnesties do not achieve this, at least not independently. Third, transitional justice may deter
future acts of violence. Our results indicate that domestic trials have the strongest deterrent
effect. Finally, transitional justice may help promote civil society organizations interested in
promoting peaceful norms of conflict resolution. Nonetheless, while our findings are suggestive
of the means through which transitional justice measures influence the durability of peace,
quantitative studies are poorly suited to test the relative importance of these potential causal
mechanisms. As such, there is a clear need for further qualitative research in this area.
Lastly, our study suggests several other questions with respect to the durability of peace
in post-conflict societies. First, civil war studies, including our own, consider only battle deaths.
Nonetheless, many transitional societies struggle to contain crime. Some argue that there are
significant continuities between civil war violence and post-conflict crime. Moreover, there are
often popular demands for draconian responses to crime, which may spiral into renewed violence
and human rights abuses (Call 2007; Wiebelhaus-Brahm 2010). Unfortunately, broadly
comparative cross-national crime data does not exist. Second, our measures of transitional justice
could miss some important qualitative characteristics. For example, there are significant
differences between different truth commissions and domestic trials. The quality of justice
produced by transitional justice mechanisms of the same type could vary considerably based on
factors such as institutional structures, resources, and personnel to name a few. This has
34 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
consequences for how satisfied victims, former fighters, and the public at large are with
transitional justice. Finally, we have attempted to isolate the independent effects of different
accountability mechanisms. However, increasingly, different forms of transitional justice are
used in the same country, whether simultaneously or sequentially. It would be beneficial to
explore how different combinations and interactions affect the durability of peace spells.
A final word. It is the nature of academics and critical observers to stress counter-
intuitions, and to isolate the negative consequences of unreflective progressivist actions. The
world is better for this kind of intellectual pushback. However, at times such criticisms become
ossified, and their authors become incapable of updating. In an intriguing historiography,
Madeiline Fullard and Nicky Rousseau (2008) demonstrate convincingly that historians’
criticisms of the South African TRC had formed and frozen at the onset of the organization’s
operation. These criticisms became rote, routine statements and re-statements for public and
media consumption, even as commissioners went to great lengths to address them. In short, the
people of the TRC learned and adapted, but their detractors did not. We are afraid a similar
process might be taking place around the initiation of human rights trials, whether domestic or
international. While these institutions and their practitioners work hard to avoid pitfalls learned
from the past, the same ‘threat to peace’ disparagement is continuously trod out, almost dutifully.
We are not sure if all human rights trials promote justice, or whether reconciliation remains a
quixotic aspiration, but based on the most nuanced data available on conflict patterns, we can say
that holding trials does not seem to inspire resumption of civil war. To the contrary, truth
commissions and amnesties do need to be closely monitored and re-examined for their conflict-
inspiring potential. Regardless of our findings, any claims that are at root empirical need
thorough fleshing out—before that, they need humility.
35 · Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm · ISA 2011
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0.00 0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00
0 100 20 0 300 40 0 500
an alys is time
dt rsel 2 = 0 dt rsel 2 = 1
Kaplan-Meier survival estimates
Table. Variable Summary Statistics
N Mean St.Dev. Min Max
Duration of Conflict 32723 24.602 57.948 0 530
Government Conflict 32723 0.526 0.499 0 1
Territorial Conflict 32723 0.191 0.393 0 1
Maximum Number of Conflicts 32723 0.868 0.703 0 8
of Previous
Maximum Intensity 32723 0.631 0.721 0 2
Risk Set 26132 1.391 0.751 1 6
Government Victory 32723 0.218 0.413 0 1
Rebel Victory 32723 0.058 0.234 0 1
Ceasefire Agreement 32723 0.064 0.245 0 1
Cessation through Low Conflict 32723 0.125 0.331 0 1
Peace Agreement 32723 0.085 0.278 0 1
of Conflict
UN Peacekeeping Operation 32723 0.037 0.189 0 1
Cumulative Amnesty Laws 32078 2.165 2.394 0 16
Cumulative Truth Commission
32723 0.413 1.316 0 11
Cumulative Domestic Trial Years 32723 0.849 2.347 0 19
Cumulative International Trial Years 32723 0.325 1.820 0 18
Human Rights
Cumulative Foreign Trial years 32723 0.176 1.075 0 18
Polity 2 32459 2.109 6.478 -10 10
Polity 2 Squared 32459 46.413 30.553 0 100
Total Population logged 30724 16.296 1.363 12.9 20.82
Regime Type
GDP per capita (2000 $) logged 29203 6.964 1.323 4.13 10.55
... They stress that extensive prosecutions undermine fragile post-conflict orders, inspiring spoilers and thwarting societal healing. A middle ground is provided by the studies of Meernik, Nichols, and King (2010), Dancy andWiebelhaus-Brahm (2011), andOlsen, Payne, andReiter (2010). They point to various countervailing dynamics associated with trial implementations and find no significant effects in either direction. ...
... They stress that extensive prosecutions undermine fragile post-conflict orders, inspiring spoilers and thwarting societal healing. A middle ground is provided by the studies of Meernik, Nichols, and King (2010), Dancy andWiebelhaus-Brahm (2011), andOlsen, Payne, andReiter (2010). They point to various countervailing dynamics associated with trial implementations and find no significant effects in either direction. ...
In this study, I investigate the impact of post-conflict trials on peace stability in post-conflict countries. I contend that empirical effects of post-conflict trials are contingent upon the partiality of the proceedings. While impartial trials promote accountability and confidence in the rule of law, partisan trials marginalize opposition forces and provide selective amnesties for government allies. To create comparable insights on partiality levels of post-conflict trials, I conduct an expert survey evaluating all major post-conflict trials between 1946 and 2005 (53 trials in total). The findings reveal that most trials were partisan while few represented genuine instances of accountability-seeking. Building on these insights, a quantitative analysis disentangles the impacts of partisan and impartial trials on peace stability using a global sample of post-conflict episodes (N = 265). The results demonstrate that positive effects of post-conflict trials on peace stability are primarily driven by partisan trials. Hence, the correlation between post-conflict trials and peace stability is mainly a product of power consolidation operating through coercive victor’s justice. While impartial post-conflict trials likewise tend to stabilize peace, their incidence is too small to trace a generalizable effect in a quantitative analysis. In light of these findings, this study calls for restraint when making consequentialist arguments about choices of post-conflict justice instruments.
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