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Leigh Payne



Human Rights Program Senior Research Fellow Leigh Payne is a leading expert on the political sociology of Latin America and one of the founders of the hugely innovative Transitional Justice Data Base (TJDB). The TJDB which began at the University of Wisconsin in 2005 is, “a global data base of over 1,000 [transitional justice] mechanisms (trials, truth commissions, amnesties, reparations, and lustration policies) used from 1970-2007.” The first of its kind, this compilation of data has allowed scholars to move beyond the particular dynamics of each transitional justice situation towards broader understandings. Profound findings from analysis of the TJDB have already been published. Namely that:

  • Countries adopt amnesties more often than other mechanisms.
    • They predominantly grant amnesties in the context of civil war and to opponents of the state, rather than state agents.

  • Courts rarely prosecute those currently in power for human rights violations.
    • In civil war settings, rebels, rather than state actors, face trials.

  • In post-authoritarian settings, courts try former authoritarian actors, but do not address crimes committed by the opposition to authoritarian rule.

  • Trials, lustration policies, and reparations occur most often in Europe.

  • Non-European countries more frequently adopt truth commissions and amnesties than do their European counterparts, with a particularly high number of amnesties granted in Latin America.

The TJDB has received grants from the National Science Foundation, Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, and the United States Institute of Peace, among others. In a move revealing their commitment to scholasticism and belief in the power of knowledge, Professor Payne and her colleagues Tricia Olsen and Andrew Reiter, have made the entire data base freely available to the public.

Professor Payne’s individual scholarship is similarly impressive in breadth and scope. Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence, Payne’s 2008 book, focuses on the effects and performative impacts of perpetrators publicly giving accounts of the atrocities they committed. Based on an analysis of transitional justice in various counties in South America and South Africa, Payne argues in the book that confessions of state violence strengthen democracies because a shared knowledge of the past better enables people and groups to live together in post-traumatic societies. Payne has written extensively on political and human rights issues in Latin America, led numerous academic centers and programs focused on international human rights, and helped develop the Human Rights Initiative at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Still in the prime of her career, Professor Payne is already a major force in human rights research and scholarship within the political sciences.

Click here to read a review of Payne's Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth Nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence.


  • National Science Foundation (US)-Arts and the Humanities Research Council (UK) collaborative grant 2010-2011 for “The Impact of Transitional Justice on Human Rights and Democracy.

  • Franklin Center Book Award, Duke University Press, 2007.

  • The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthus Foundation Research and Writing Grant 2001.

Major Publications

Transitional Justice in Balance: Comparing Processes, Weighing Efficacy (Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace, 2010), co-authored with Tricia Olsen and Andrew Reiter.

Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth Nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

Uncivil Movements: The Armed Right-Wing and Democracy in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Brazilian Industrialists and Democratic Change (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

Written by Nathan Ratner.