Policy Implications

What kind of policy implications do our findings have for future cases of transitional justice, not only for countries in the Asia-Pacific still awaiting transitions to democracy and/or to peace, but also for those countries experiencing the so-called ‘fourth wave of democratisation’ in the Middle East and North Africa? Without wanting to head down the dangerous path of prescribing particular courses of action or make vast generalisations (for, as we have seen, the pursuit of transitional justice is highly contextual), two main implications are apparent.

First, the cases of the Asia-Pacific help to illustrate the fact that although the world has experienced a rise in norms associated with human rights and accountability, the culture of impunity is still strong. It is thus not particularly surprising that demands for accountability in the wake of the Arab Spring have been met with sustained resistance. In some ways, contemporary scholarly debates about the effectiveness of transitional justice measures play into the hands of those who wish to avoid justice. Offering up claims that particular measures are a waste of money or are ineffective, backward-looking approaches often tip the scale against accountability. Yet, at the same time, we cannot shy away from developing a deeper, more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the effects of transitional justice, for this is essential to ensuring optimal outcomes for peace, democracy and human rights are achieved for future transitional states.

Second, although the culture of impunity is still strong and considerable internal resistance to accountability exists, in four of the six cases we examined, accountability eventually overcame impunity. Even in the two cases in which accountability has not been forthcoming, Aceh and Sri Lanka, demands for truth and justice continue to be voiced.25 As the cases of delayed accountability in the region demonstrate, however, it is not necessarily the case that impunity will always endure. If the precondition of stable, consolidated democracy is met, then strong and resilient activism in the region may well see belated accountability for human rights violations achieved. So long as that remains a possibility, the future for transitional and post-transitional states in the Asia-Pacific and, indeed, the world, may not be so dark after all.

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