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The revolutionary potential of transitional justice: Transitional justice, arts and protest in South Sudan

The final episode of the Justice Visions miniseries on the revolutionary potential of transitional justice zooms in on the relationship between protest, artistic practices and transitional justice in South Sudan. This might seem not be the most obvious choice for such a miniseries, as transitional justice is a relatively new concept in the world’s youngest nation, which has endured decades of violence.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, following more than 20 years of civil war, and subsequently experienced another civil war from 2013 to 2020. In response to the legacies of these conflicts, both formal and informal transitional justice initiatives have been established. While the peace agreements put forward four transitional justice measures, none of these foreseen measures became operational. In the absence of functioning formal transitional justice mechanisms, the artistic realm has emerged as an incubator for contestation and resistance.

We are exploring the way in which artistic practices further both TJ and protest with Sayra van den Berg. Sayra has recently conducted fieldwork in South Sudan, focusing on contemporary artistic and cultural expressions, notably in the domain of visual arts and music. She describes how several artists share goals with the transitional justice advocacy community, even if they do not self-identify as TJ actors, arguing that,

While I don’t necessarily think that there is an intrinsic benefit in adopting the language of transitional justice for these artistic spaces, I do think that there’s a very real relational benefit to being a part of this wider transitional justice community that using that language grants access to.

Delving into the vibrant artistic landscape, she describes arts’ potential for innovation in TJ spaces and discussions. Scholars and practitioners can act upon this:

The increasingly critical turn in scholarship around formal mechanisms of transitional justice is a call to action for all of us in this incredibly fluid and evolving field of research, to locate the practice of transitional justice in the spaces where its goals are centralized and not merely within a rather static and narrow set of formal mechanisms.


Dr. Sayra van den Berg is a transitional justice scholar, affiliated to the University of York, whose research focuses on the dialogics of lived experiences of harm and hope in sub-Saharan African contexts. Her current research ethnographically explores artistic practices of transitional justice in South Sudan.

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