Just collateral damage? Accountability of economic elites in peacebuilding and transitional justice in Colombia

Peace &Change, EarlyView.


Analyzing how transitional justice (TJ) mechanisms address the role of economic and political elites in contexts of widespread violence is crucial for understanding their possible transformative impact. The type of challenges faced by TJ instruments when trying to deal with economic elites involved in human rights violations also reflects the extent and degree of these groups' power in a specific transitional context. Looking at the two main transitional justice processes in Colombia, this paper argues that accountability for these privileged actors tends to materialize in cases in which the alliances between different kinds of elites are threatened, or even collapse. However, as this article will show, judicial TJ mechanisms on their own can only have a very limited transformative impact on the accountability of economic elites and their liability for human rights violations in the absence of strong support by state institutions. TJ instruments can provide an exceptional framework to trigger and motivate meaningful transformations. Nonetheless, the concrete realization of these changes far exceeds the possibilities, capacity, and resources of TJ, which in and of itself cannot replace state institutions, especially an ordinary justice system that should continue to make progress on these cases.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.