Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Collaborative Specialization

Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction


Quinn, Joanna R.


This dissertation examines questions of local agency and inclusion. It develops a conceptual understanding of whether, and if so how, local customary justice mechanisms could serve as guarantees of non-recurrence. It looks at how grassroots practices of “justice” could be utilized at the community level to deter the commission of future abuses and prevent the repetition of violent conflict, especially where the state has been completely absent. It specifically explores Acholi indigenous and customary practices of peacemaking and justice in Northern Uganda to understand how local practices could secure a lasting peace and cement communities’ commitment to peaceful coexistence.

While the prevailing literature tends to conceptualize measures of non-recurrence as being the purview of a formal state and governmental apparatus, this conceptualization is based on a narrow idea that state actors are the dominant perpetrators of violence in armed conflicts. However, recent structural shifts in armed conflict demonstrate that non-state armed actors equally commit severe atrocities, resulting in varying degrees of state control, ranging from perennial weakness to complete absence. Therefore, I argue that to effectively terminate violence and prevent the future reoccurrence of violent conflict, measures of non-recurrence must be viewed as a holistic approach that engages a series of actors at different levels, especially non-state armed actors and traditional institutions of conflict management at the local level.

Through the lens of social constructivism, I advance three explanations about how locally-based customary justice could help prevent the recurrence of violent conflict. First, I argue that the various customary justice instruments of how victims and perpetrators make amends at the community level could provide ex-combatants the best route to safely reintegrate into civilian life, which could, in turn, promote peaceful coexistence and reduce the likelihood of ex-combatants’ return to join armed groups. Second, customary justice and other traditional conflict management instruments such as local peace deals could also terminate localized violence, thereby serving as the springboard for broader peace processes to emerge at the national level. Third, the communal orientation of customary justice could serve as social control and accountability mechanism, which could perform a social deterrent function to prevent ex-fighters from returning to combat life.

Summary for Lay Audience

In societies emerging from armed conflict, several measures are often undertaken to secure long-term peace, including truth-seeking, criminal prosecution of people accused of wrongdoing, repairing the harms of victims, and actions to prevent the future reversion of armed conflict. These measures, often designed and implemented by international and national level actors, fail to secure long-term peace, and most societies tend to revert to armed conflict. These national-level measures tend to fail because they do not adequately pay attention to the conflict’s local contexts, including existing local and traditional conflict management systems. This study explores how existing local traditional and customary responses to armed conflict could stop ongoing hostilities, prevent future reversion to that conflict, and secure long-term peace. I advance three arguments about how traditional and customary transitional justice measures can potentially stop armed conflict and prevent a future reversion to violence.

First, I argue that customary transitional justice mechanisms are more suitable to help reintegrated ex-fighters when they return from fighting in the bush. Customary justice is more suitable because they tend to focus on the social dimensions of reintegration of the ex-fighters to reconnect with their families and the general community to get their civilian life back. Second, because recent armed conflict involves several non-state armed groups who often fight against each other at the local level, it might be helpful to pay attention to securing a local level peace agreement among local non-state armed groups. The idea here is that once various local armed groups agree to stop fighting, there can be a “trickle-up” effect, which can provide avenues for larger peace negotiations to emerge at the national level, which can secure long-term peace. Finally, I argue that customary justice mechanisms often focus on the social dimension, and communities take a collective responsibility to correct their members’ wrongs. As a result of this communal nature of customary justice, the entire community serves as a social accountability mechanism that puts “checks” on their potential wrongdoers in their community. This social accountability mechanism can be a powerful tool to prevent people from joining armed groups or participating in armed conflict.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.