Sustainable human development principles underlie many of the objectives of transitional justice mechanisms. At the same time, the form, implementation and outcome of such mechanisms are influenced primarily by the political will, capacity and resources available to local, national and international institutions. Missing in the equation is the active involvement of the affected population in the planning and implementation phases. Building on the concepts of participation and ownership core to the philosophy and practice of sustainable human development, we use the results of a survey of 2,620 adult residents in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to illustrate how transitional justice policies could and should be grounded in empirical evidence to best achieve sustainable human development objectives. Our results suggest that basic survival needs and security must come before mechanisms that deal with justice issues and reparations. Respondents expressed fear of reprisal if they were to talk openly about their experience in the conflict, which poses an obstacle to any truth-seeking process and, more generally, social change. In addition, the population's expectations for punishment and prosecution of numerous defendants must be addressed. Transitional justice mechanisms must be part of a broader set of policies for socioeconomic development and reconciliation.