After Atrocities: The Challenges of Transitional Justice

The end of a civil war or dictatorship is rightfully a cause for celebration. It gives hope for the end of violence and the abuse of human rights as well as an opportunity for the country to pursue a better future for its people. Yet this transitional process is not without challenges. The severity and scope of past atrocities tend to be significant and the government institutions that would normally address them are often weakened by the years of violence, corruption, or neglect. Countries must balance a desire to hold those responsible to account, to repair the harms suffered by victims, and to ensure stability moving forward. Transitional justice seeks to balance these needs as society comes to terms with recent violence and prevents its recurrence in the future.

Over the past several decades transitional justice mechanisms have been employed in multiple contexts from the former Yugoslavia, to Argentina, South Africa, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, East Timor, and numerous other countries. Although the results have varied greatly, the popularity of this approach continues to grow and transitional justice frameworks are now being promoted in an ever widening set of circumstances. This course will consider the elements of transitional justice, examine the mechanisms by which they are implemented, and analyze examples from around the globe. You will be challenged to consider which aspects you would prioritize in particular contexts and recognize the trade offs those decisions entail. Which victims should receive reparations first? Must every person involved in atrocities be punished? How do you restore trust in the government after it failed to protect human rights?

Given the nature of transitional justice, this course will include descriptions and discussions of sensitive topics including human rights violations, torture, and sexual and gender based violence. Students will be expected to engage in respectful and serious conversation around these topics. If a specific theme is triggering to a student, the instructor will consider an appropriate accommodation for that individual.


Course Schedule

Program Date: March 15 - April 24, 2021

Students will meet online on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:00-9:15PM (Eastern Standard Time) with additional asynchronous time requirements of 1hr+ per week.


Academic Director

Michael Talbot

Michael Talbot

Michael Talbot is a human rights lawyer and Notre Dame’s Director of Initiatives in Mexico. In that capacity, he provides leadership for the University’s Mexico Global Center and serves as liaison to partner universities, government offices, non-profit organizations, alumni, and others in the region. He also acts as a resource for Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students studying in Mexico. Prior to this position, he supported the founding of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs and served as the first Associate Director for its Master of Global Affairs program.

Talbot’s research focuses on issues connected to international human rights law, transitional justice, integral human development, and the interface between international legal frameworks and traditional practices. His publications have appeared in the Georgetown Journal of International Law, Harvard Human Rights Law Journal, South Carolina Journal of International Law & Business, and elsewhere. He has taught courses in international human rights, transitional justice, and applied social ethics.

Talbot’s experiences prior to Notre Dame include a fellowship with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and work with the South Carolina Non-Profit Organizations Clinic. In addition, Talbot served with the U.S. Peace Corps in The Gambia, where he coordinated nation-wide initiatives related to malaria prevention and HIV/AIDS education, and as a mediator with the Center for Community Justice in Elkhart, IN.

Talbot holds an LLM in International Human Rights Law from Notre Dame, a JD from the University of South Carolina, a MA from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and a BA from the Catholic University of America.