The Limits of Punishment

United Nations University, May 2018.
Cale Salih, Ron Slye, Mara Revkin, Vanda Felbab-Brown, Mark Freeman,

The Limits of Punishment is a research project led by the United Nations University’s Centre for Policy Research, in partnership with the Institute for Integrated Transitions, and supported by the UK Department for International Development.* It seeks to understand if, when and how transitional justice, in combination with other conflict resolution tools, can contribute to transitions away from conflict in settings affected by major jihadist groups. The project undertook three fieldwork-based case studies that assessed nationally-led approaches to handling individuals accused of having been associated with: al Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. The case studies look at a broad range of formal and informal mechanisms of punishment and leniency. These include, inter alia: amnesties; prosecutions; traditional justice; and disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration (DDR), rehabilitation, and similar programs that, in practice, offer some individuals alternatives to criminal justice. The case studies demonstrate the risks of excessively heavy-handed and at times indiscriminate approaches that penalise broad sectors of local populations accused of association with these groups, and assess the quality and limitations of existing leniency programs for such individuals. Secondly, the Institute for Integrated Transitions’ Law and Peace Practice Group – a group of leading transitional justice experts – analysed the empirical evidence of the case studies in light of broader lessons learned from decades of international practice in the field of transitional justice. On this basis, the Group developed a framework to assist national policymakers and practitioners – as well as their international partners – in applying transitional justice tools as part of a broader strategy to resolve conflicts involving groups deemed violent extremist. The framework offers a range of approaches toward effectively balancing leniency and accountability, that can be tailored to conflict settings marked by violent extremism.