Project Documentation

Principal Investigator:  Sari Wastell

Goldsmiths, University of London

Proposal Full Title:

Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts:  ‘Transitional Justice’ and the Legal Shaping of Memory after Two Modern Conflicts

Proposal Short Title:  Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts

Proposed Duration of Research:  48 Months - September 2009 through August 2013

Proposal Summary:

The proposed research entails a detailed ethnographic study of two contemporary cases of post-conflict reconciliation:  one, the Bosnian case, where international intervention ended conflict in a stalemate and went on to instigate a now decade-long process of transition; and the other, the Spanish case, where a nationally-contrived pact of silence introduced an overnight ‘transition’ immediately after Franco’s death – a pact now being broken nearly seventy years after the country’s civil war concluded.  Both societies witnessed massive violations of international humanitarian law.  Both societies are presently exhuming, identifying and re-burying their dead.  But their trajectories of ‘transitional justice’ could not have been more different. 

Harnessing the analytic resources provided by scalar theory, social systems theory and anthropological studies of disparate temporal idioms, this project will investigate how the Law helps to shape cultural memories of wartime atrocity in these two contrasting scenarios.  How do criminal prosecutions, constitutional reforms, and the implementation of international rights mechanisms, provide or obfuscate the scales into which histories of violent conflict are framed?  Does the systematic re-structuring of legislative and judicial infrastructure, in the shape of electoral reforms, anti-corruption legislation and capacity-building projects, provide a self-referential mode of communication that stifles full recognition of past abuses or create the conditions of possibility through which such pasts can be confronted? How does Law shape or inflect the cultural politics of memory and memorialisation?  To what extent can the Law adequately recognise and offer redress for the trauma caused by wartime atrocity? And most importantly, how should legal activity be weighted, prioritised and sequenced with other, extra-legal components of peace-building initiatives? 

At a juncture in history when international accountability and ‘the end to impunity’ are being systematically realised through legal doctrines and legal discourses, how do very diverse societies receive these interventions, and what level of volition should be countenanced in terms of a society’s right to determine its own course towards post-conflict reconciliation?  The ultimate goal of this project will be to mobilise the findings from the two field-sites to suggest a more nuanced assessment of Law’s ‘place’ in peace-building efforts and transitional justice programmes.  Arguing that disparate historical, cultural and legal contexts require equally distinct approaches towards social healing, the research aims to produce a ‘Post-Conflict Action Framework’ – an architecture of questions and concerns, which, once answered, would point towards context-specific designs for transitional justice programmes in the future.

The full project proposal.