Addressing post-colonial legacies in transitional justice
Project commenced: August 2019
Project completion date: November 2021
Project PIs: Prof Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (QUB) and Prof Bill Rolston (Ulster)
Other Staff or Partners: Dr Claire Wright (QUB)
The majority of states to which transitional justice mechanisms are applied are former colonies. But colonial occupation, decolonization, and the ongoing legacy of colonialism frequently go unremarked in transitional justice debates and policy making. Despite the lack of formal attention to colonialism, battles persist over the legitimacy of colonial borders, the validity of enduring legal instruments of colonial control, and ‘memory wars’, including the writing and telling of history during and after the colonial period. Research in this project will address such questions as: (1) When deciding to deal with ‘the past’, how far back should policy makers and legislators look? (2) How does the colonial past shape conditions conducive to contemporary conflict (3) How should engaging this past shape contemporary conflict-ending solutions? By focusing on the very different contexts of Northern Ireland and Colombia, we hope to make a contribution that is valid for a wide range of postcolonial situations.
The project on colonialism and transition is one of three projects in which Prof Ní Aoláin is participating in the framework of the UKRI Gender, Justice and Security Hub. The Hub is a five-year project focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. The Hub is led by Prof Christine Chinkin in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. Working with major research institutions in the UK and Northern Ireland, and researchers and advocates for gender justice across the global south, we aim to turn insights into ongoing actions that improve lives.
Prof Ní Aoláin is Co-Coordinator of the Transformation and Empowerment Stream within the Hub. Together with Prof Rory O’Connell (Ulster), she is also working on a project on socioeconomic rights and transition, which seeks to understand how socio-economic rights are bargained in (and out) of peace agreements, and what form those bargains take. The project seeks to address what long term and sustainable effect social and economic rights inclusion has on the durability of peace. The project, which is comparative in substance, will focus on Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Colombia. Prof Ní Aoláin leads a third project within the framework of the Hub, focused specifically on transformative conflict resolution and the way in which gender plays a critical and growing role in conflict management, conflict resolution and conflict transition.
Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin is the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. She is a university regents professor at the University of Minnesota; holder of the Robina chair in law, public policy, and society; and faculty director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is concurrently a professor of law at the Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. She served as Professor and Director of the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland from 2000-2018. Ni Aoláin’s work focuses on the intersection of human rights and humanitarian norms. She has published widely in the fields of emergency powers, conflict regulation, transitional justice, and sex-based violence in times of war and has written extensively on theoretical aspects of transition.
Bill Rolston is an emeritus professor with and former director of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University. He has researched and written widely on legacies of conflict and on post-conflict transformation, mainly but not solely in relation to Northern Ireland. Issues researched have included: truth commissions, the contribution of politically motivated prisoners to conflict transformation, victims and memory, and political wall murals.
Claire Wright is a Research Fellow at the QUB School of Law. Prior to taking up the post, she was a lecturer in Mexico, first at the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon and then at the Universidad de Monterrey. Claire’s research has focused on Latin American politics, more specifically indigenous participation and emergency powers, and she has published on these issues widely in both English and Spanish.
The Hub and associated projects are financed by UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion fund to support cutting-edge research to address the challenges faced by developing countries.
Rolston, B. & Ní Aoláin, F. (2018) Colonialism, Redress, and Transitional Justice: Ireland and Beyond. State Crime Journal, 7(2), 329-348, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/statecrime.7.2.0329?seq=1
Full details on the Gender Justice and Security Hub can be found at http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/research/Gender-Justice-and-Security-Hub
Details on the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund can be found at