Research grant supports course development on transitional justice

Author: Kevin Fye


Michael Talbot, associate director for the Master of Global Affairs program and concurrent faculty at the Keough School, has received a grant from the Klau Center to support curricular development. Talbot will use the funds in part to travel to The Gambia, where he will deepen relationships with the country’s newly formed truth and reconciliation commission.

The trip to western Africa is part of Talbot’s overall curricular development strategy for a new Keough School course offering, a skills-focused course entitled “Transitional Justice in Context.” Combining issues around societal transition from dictatorship with accountability for gross human rights violations, as well as approaches to reparations, the course will be grounded in the realities of The Gambia’s ongoing process.

In 2016 the country removed by electoral process its longtime authoritarian head of state, Yahya Jammeh, who has been accused of numerous human rights violations including arbitrary imprisonment, murder, and forced disappearance. As part of the transition of power, the government established a truth, reconciliation, and reparations commission (TRRC), whose work is just now getting underway. “When I found out who had been appointed Executive Secretary of the commission, I reached out,” Talbot explains. “We have been talking back and forth as the commission establishes itself. Now that the commission is officially open, and is performing sensitization efforts around the country, public hearings should begin in the coming months.” Talbot’s trip will allow him to deepen his relationships with the key players in the commission and associated groups, and review important documentation.

The goal is to allow students in the Keough School course a unique, inside view of the complex workings of a sensitive and highly charged political and social process. As Talbot explains, the opportunity to contrast historical knowledge with on-the-ground developments provides a more nuanced point of view.  “I can ask the students, ‘why does that process look so much more complicated in practice,’” he says. “Let’s think about what the TRRC is facing right now, and what are the possible ramifications of those decisions.” Ultimately, the students will be asked to draft recommendations to the commission – a rare opportunity to directly engage with historical events.

“Transitional Justice in Context” will be offered jointly by the Keough School and Notre Dame Law School in the spring semester of 2019. Talbot has received funding for course development from the Keough School and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies as well as the Klau Center.