Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Illuminating the 'Grey Zone': Addressing Complex Complicity in Human Rights Violations

Project description

Investigating complicity in human rights abuses

Transitional justice (TJ) refers to a range of processes and mechanisms designed to ensure accountability, deliver justice and foster reconciliation for victims affected by past conflicts and abuses. However, there exists a complex situation known as the ‘grey zone’, which involves individuals who were bystanders, collaborators or beneficiaries of violence but managed to evade scrutiny from TJ institutions. The ERC-funded GREYZONE project will study the grey zone and analyse the political consequences that arise from disregarding complicity in violence on a broader scale. The project will focus on four distinct cases: authoritarianism and military occupation during the Vichy regime in France, apartheid in South Africa, totalitarianism in Romania from 1945 to 1989, and the military dictatorship in Argentina from 1976 to 1983.


The grey zone of bystanders, collaborators and beneficiaries of violence escapes the scope of main Transitional Justice (TJ) institutions and poses tough questions for scholars and architects of post-conflict societies. This interdisciplinary project shifts the focus of academic and political debates by pursuing three objectives: conceptually, it departs from the dominant victim-perpetrator paradigm and theorises the many faces in the grey zone by analysing the interplay between structure and agency; normatively, it argues that no account of TJ is complete without engaging the grey zone; empirically, it tests if, in tackling the grey zone, cinematographic and literary representations can supplement typical TJ mechanisms (trials, truth commissions, lustration). Four cases are analysed: authoritarianism plus military occupation (Vichy France), apartheid (South Africa), totalitarianism (Romania 1945–1989) and military dictatorship (Argentina 1976–1983). The cases provide a variety of contexts of complicity and feature the most frequently used TJ mechanisms. They serve to a) examine the relationship between the official story emerging from state-orchestrated TJ mechanisms and artistic narratives of complicity; b) contextually distinguish disclosive from obscuring artistic representations of the grey zone; c) explore the contribution of these representations to TJ efforts by studying their effect on public debates about—and institutional responses to—the past. Working at the frontiers between political science, philosophy, history, law, literature and cinema, this pioneering project has critical and institutional impact. Critically, it discloses the limits of current TJ theory and practice by emphasising the negative political effects of ignoring general complicity in violence. Institutionally, it seeks to enrich the toolkit of scholars and practitioners by pointing to the potential use of cinema and literature in civic education aimed at deterrence and reconciliation.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 349 481,00
EH8 9YL Edinburgh
United Kingdom

See on map

Scotland Eastern Scotland Edinburgh
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 349 481,00

Beneficiaries (1)