By Human Rights Centre - UGent
The Justice Visions podcast is hosted by the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. The podcast showcases cutting-edge research and practice regarding victim participation in transitional justice.
Reparations Beyond the State
Reparations are a key mechanism to redress violations of international law. They are mostly conceived within state-like frameworks and related to measures administered by states. Yet, violence has increasingly shifted away from states to non-state actors such as armed groups. In a new Justice Visions podcast episode, we talk with Katharine Fortin (Netherlands Institute of Human Rights) and Luke Moffett (Queen's University) about the need to broaden the conversation about engaging armed groups and encouraging them to remedy the harm they have caused. Currently, around 60 to 80 million people are living under the control of armed groups. In their practices, armed groups are increasingly taking on public ‘semi-government’ functions, using the law and employing judicial processes. These practices pose new challenges and questions for the International Criminal Court, as Katharine argues: “Is armed group law, law? Are armed group courts, courts?” and if they are, “should the international community be asking armed groups to investigate if a particular violation has taken place?” Yet, within the human rights framework it is still controversial to engage with armed groups. Can we somehow hold them accountable through the mechanisms they employ, and broaden the conversation about how to deal with the violence and harm they cause? These are crucial questions, as the existence of armed groups is part of the reality in many post-conflict societies. Using the example of Northern-Ireland, Luke point to the ongoing existence of armed groups, even 25 years after the peace process. In Northern Ireland about 13.000 people, amounting to one out of a hundred adults are currently members of armed groups. Yet, Luke posits that armed actors could also be approached as potential community leaders and peace-builders, with a view to protecting civilians. “It comes down to how do people act and interact as victims, civil society and armed groups in these situations. Where in transitional justice we are often are looking at post-conflict cases and post-authoritarian governments, in these situations it’s protracted conflict, it’s re-emerging conflicts, fragile societies where there is real insecurity for victims to come out and speak out. How do we better protect and allow people to access some sort of remedy without causing disadvantages for them?”
September 30, 2022
Bridging Syrian and International Justice Efforts
The Syrian conflict has underlined some of the weaknesses of the international justice system: the lack of formal justice avenues has left victims of international crimes largely in the cold. Conversely, this stalemate has also led to a transnational justice scene, arising from creative and innovative Syrian and international justice initiatives. This last Syria podcast episode sheds a light on some of the pitfalls and achievements that could inform justice actors in other conflicts. While local civil society’s efforts to document crimes and collect evidence are remarkable, Mohammad Al Abdallah, director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is pessimistic about their outcome. Mr. Al Abadallah fears that as long as there are no domestic justice processes, accountability would fail to achieve its goals. Nonetheless, he is adamant about the importance of credible, authentic documentation: “to help justice processes in the future to start on the right footing. The second thing is to take any available interim steps and use them to the extent possible.” Within this context, the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM), is vital. Its head, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, argues that a two-way communication with Syrian civil society actors is key for this UN entity that acts as a repository and conducts structural investigations into crimes. Ms. Marchi-Uhel interprets the mandate of this justice catalyst “as encompassing support to forms of justice broader than criminal justice. And the search for missing persons is an obvious component of that.” The rich and stimulating conversations we had through this podcast mini-series on justice efforts for Syria remind us that transitional justice concepts and initiatives cannot work without innovation and creativity. Justice Visions and Impunity Watch hope that these conversations will inspire justice actors in other contexts and encourage them to think outside of the so-called “toolbox”.
August 30, 2022
Syrian Victim and Survivor Groups at Forefront of Justice Efforts
Syrian victim and survivor groups have been increasingly active in informal transitional justice processes. They assert their political agency and demonstrate that survivors and victims are the key stakeholders in justice initiatives. This episode zooms in on the origin of victims’ activism and some main break-throughs. Victims and their families felt that international efforts were almost nonexistent or failed to meet their demands. Christalla Yakinthou, a scholar of transitional justice at Birmingham university, argues that in response to this stalemate, Syrian victims’ groups started to emerge around 2016. “In that dual context of the escalation of violence and the feeling that the international community wasn’t going to do anything, there was this emerging sense of what can we do for ourselves?” The moment was ripe for the establishment of groups that assist victims and propose concrete solutions to their justice needs, such as finding out the fate of the disappeared and the missing. Within this context, in 2021 five victim groups launched the Truth and Justice Charter, in which they set out their short-term and long-term justice perspectives. Yasmen Almashan, of the Caesar Families Association -one of the Charter groups- explains: “justice paths are usually long. But there are urgent needs and necessities for us as families that must be prioritized. These are an immediate halt to torture, inhuman treatment, and sexual crimes in detention centers and prisons, revealing the fate of the forcibly disappeared, and returning the remains of those killed.” These efforts have not gone unnoticed internationally. Riyad Avlar of the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison upholds that victim groups proved to the international community that victims have the potential to propose and lead initiatives that meet their needs. “The most important issue that we are currently working on as victims’ groups is a mechanism for missing persons in Syria. The mechanism must be international, this is crucial.” Even if victim groups managed to create their own spaces for activism and impose their participation, they carry a huge burden on their shoulders. Agency comes with a cost, as Hiba al-Hamed of the Coalition of Families of persons Kidnapped by ISIS explains. “It is not easy, remembering every time these sad stories, talking about our beloved ones and mentioning personal details.” Their struggle and the realization that the road is long, weighs heavy. “But our voices at least are heard and nothing is imposed on us,” Hiba argues.
July 14, 2022
The Syrian Gulag: Reality and Narratives about the Prison System
As a central institution of the Assad’s regime’s system of governance, the prison is aimed at destroying political subjects in Syria. Mass imprisonment has a devastating impact on Syrian society. Despite its omnipresence, an overview of this gulag or system of prisons spread all over the country, was lacking so far. Determined to fill that gap, researchers Uğur Ümit Üngör and Jaber Baker published The Syrian Gulag, Assad’s Prisons, 1970-2020. They looked among others into the intelligence agencies that operate, according to Uğur, like a vacuum cleaner. “They penetrate into society and extract people from it. Then they process these human beings by subjecting them to violent treatment, to torture and other forms of interrogation, and keep them in these prisons for a while.” As Jaber highlights, this prison system has enormous physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. “There are hundreds of missing persons in the darkness of this gulag and no one knows anything about them. This breaks up families.” Imprisonment is a national trauma that has left its traces in the cultural domain, generating a huge body of prison narratives. In her research project SYRASP, Anne-Marie McManus relates the functions of these narratives in the domain of among others literature, cinema and visual arts to different verbs: knowing, remembering and feeling; not only as a form of remembrance but also as political contestation. “I think actually one of the major goals of the prison field today is to articulate a new meaning, or a set of meanings around imprisonment and enforced disappearance.”
June 30, 2022
Truth-seeking and the Potential of Arts
The new episode of the Justice Visions and Impunity Watch mini-series on justice efforts for Syrians deals with truth-seeking and the potential of artistic practices. In the absence of an official truth-seeking mechanism, Syrian NGOs and victim groups are increasingly turning to truth-seeking to address pressing justice needs. We explore the quest for the truth with Sema Nassar, Laila Kiki and Mohammad al-Attar who shed a light on truth-seeking efforts, the role of artistic practices and how arts can offer a parallel process to justice efforts. Syrian human rights defender Sema Nassar constantly hears the same despairing question: “We want to know what happened. What is the fate of my son or daughter?” Currently, the families of over 100.000 forcibly missing and disappeared in Syria are deprived of that kind of information. Illustrating the case of the Douma Four human rights defenders, Sema insists that revealing the fate of the missing and disappeared is one of the priorities: “Whether they want to pursue accountability or if this truth satisfies them and they can reconcile with it one way or another, or even if they want to find compensation: the first step before anything is knowing the truth.” Truth-seeking is a difficult endeavour in any case, and even more so in an ongoing conflict that is marked by uncertainty over facts and evidence. In contexts like these, artistic practices can offer more complex understandings of truth. Director of the Syria Campaign Laila Kiki, for example, believes that art and culture can reflect the diverse experiences of the survivors and victims. She gives the example of the Freedom Bus, a bus covered with pictures of missing loved ones that toured Europe, aiming to make their absence visible. It became also a symbol of comfort. “To many Syrians, it became a place for physical gathering in the diaspora, not only for the 100,000 families who have loved ones disappeared in Syria, but also for the movement for justice.” Playwright Mohammad al-Attar considers arts as a parallel process to justice efforts, that allows to combine documentary with fiction, to start with real references and real protagonists, but to also appeal to the imagination. He believes that in a situation like in Syria, where the tragedy is still ongoing, arts can “create spaces where you can discuss these difficult topics with more ease, with more freedom, with less tension, with less polarization.”
May 31, 2022
Criminal Accountability for Syrians and Beyond
In this new episode of this mini-series on justice efforts for Syrians by Justice Visions and Impunity Watch, we critically examine criminal accountability efforts. Since the start of the al-Khatib trial in April 2020, the first one involving Syrian state torture, criminal proceedings have dominated the justice debate. Patrick Krocker (ECCHR), Anwar al-Bunni (SCLSR) and Veronica Bellintani (SDLP) shed light on the impact of criminal accountability, the central role of victims and the need to complement criminal proceedings by other efforts. Syrian lawyer Anwar al-Bunni insists that we cannot overestimate the importance of trials under universal jurisdiction, especially as the conflict is ongoing. “The most important thing is to send a message to the perpetrators that there is no room for impunity in Syria's future, to prevent such crimes from happening in the future and not give perpetrators a sense of security that allows them to commit crimes, whether in Syria or elsewhere.” In this respect, the transnational cooperation between Syrian lawyers, civil society groups and international NGOs was key: it demonstrated that while most avenues are closed and realpolitik reigns, justice is not impossible. As a lawyer on behalf of the victim plaintiffs at the al-Khatib trial, Patrick Krocker witnessed first-hand how this trial created a momentum for international justice. While the road ahead is long, he is cautiously optimistic: “there are a lot of prosecutors and investigators that have very deep knowledge of the situation in Syria, that have gathered tons of evidence. I think that the genuine motivation that this evidence is there and should be used is going to stay.” Closely observing the criminal proceedings and the prominent role of victim groups, Veronica Bellintani notes that criminal accountability should not be seen as a superior form of justice, and that victims’ perspectives should be central. “After the al-Khatib trial there was a lot of conversation about which other perpetrators should we look for: high level perpetrators, low-level perpetrators? Should we file more complaints? And I think that the conversation should have been more about: how can we make sure that our next justice efforts, our next litigation proceedings are done together with survivors?”
April 29, 2022
Breaking the Syrian Justice Impasse: A Mini-series on Justice Efforts for Syrians
In this new mini-series, Justice Visions podcast teams up with Impunity Watch to tell the story of Syrian justice actors’ struggle to unlock the road to justice. Through interviews with practitioners, Brigitte Herremans, Habib Nassar and Mohammed Abdullah will debate justice efforts for Syrians in the domain of accountability, documentation, victim’s activism and truth-seeking.
March 29, 2022
How do we talk about historical commissions as instances of transitional justice?
Historical commissions are not a new phenomenon. The rise and popularity of the historical commission model took place throughout the nineties and early two-thousands – coinciding with the end of the Cold War – when professional historians took a new interest in engaging with the politics of the past. However, they have been increasingly framed as instances of transitional justice; and this is new. This paradigm shift has been particularly noticeable within consolidated democracies, where post-colonial states are increasingly facing pressures to come to terms with the legacies of their violent pasts. In this episode, Prof. Tine Destrooper speaks with Dr. Cira Palli-Aspero, postdoctoral research fellow with Justice Visions, and Dr. Alexander Karn, from Colgate University, to explore the link between historical commissions and transitional justice, when these operate in consolidated democracies. We take a conceptual approach to first talk about how these commissions operate and what are their normative objectives; and second, to explore what are the implications of framing these historical commissions in consolidated democracies as instances of transitional justice, and especially the implications for the field of transitional justice. “…what the historical commissions may help the field of transitional justice to understand is that you do not have sort of hard and fast dates that can be used to cleanly bracket injustice. There needs to be a willingness to think about how the conditions of injustice evolved and what legacies the injustice leaves going forward” – Alexander Karn. Alexander Karn is Associate Professor of History and Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University (NY, USA). He has worked extensively on the politics of history in contemporary societies, on understanding historical dialogue and justice in transitional regimes and established democracies, and on the role of historical commissions in conflict mediation and reconciliation. He is the author of Amending the Past: Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015) and co-editor (with Elazar Barkan) of Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation (Stanford University Press, 2006). Since 2014, he has been a member of the steering committee for the Historical Dialogues, Justice, and Memory Research Network (www.historicaldialogues.org).
February 21, 2022
How do we talk about youth participation in transitional justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Why should we talk about youth participation in transitional justice? How can we theorize youth contributions to the field of transitional justice? From the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the range of student movements in South America, historically, youth have participated in protests for social and political change challenging impunity; addressing legacies of brutal regimes, and advancing an acknowledgment of dignity and respect for rights—all of which can be perceived as bottom-up contributions to transitional justice. However, despite their contributions to transitional justice, youth remain marginalized in literature and policy debates or are given only a limited and predetermined space to engage. In this episode, we zoom in on this topic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where there is ongoing momentum for the possibility of developing a national strategy on transitional justice. This impetus draws from the expressed interest of President Felix Tshisekedi in 2020 to deal with the brutal legacies of past and ongoing Congo conflicts. We explore the concept of 'collective participation,' which is understood as group mobilization in claimed spaces, and how it can help us understand youth participation in transitional justice in the DRC. Prof Tine Destrooper speaks with Christian Cirhigiri, Ph.D. researcher with Justice Visions, and Henry-Pacifique Mayala, a member of LUCHA, a youth movement created in 2012 in Goma which espouses the transitional justice discourse to demand State accountability for everyday political and socio-economic violations affecting the masses. “ … Another important challenge is the political leader's perceptions of the country's youth, rather than being considered as partners and collaborators at some points back in the years we were even assimilated to terrorist groups. Several of our comrades were sent to prison for years on zero rational basis.” Henry-Pacifique Mayala.
January 31, 2022
How do we talk about participation?
What do we mean when we talk about victim-participation? How do we conceptualize the notion of participation in transitional justice so we can study or even evaluate it? In this episode, Justice Visions colleagues Gretel Mejía Bonifazi and Elke Evrard address these theoretical questions and connect them to the struggle of the COCOP community, an Ixil community in the Guatemalan Highlands seeking truth, justice and redress for a state-led massacre during the armed conflict. First, we outline why an actor-oriented approach is needed to shed light on the participatory ‘trajectories’ of survivors throughout an ‘ecosystem’ of transitional justice spaces and moments. Then, our interviewees Juan Cobo Brito and Juana Santiago Cedillo share reflections from their own participation trajectory, drawing our attention to the importance of exploring participants’ identities and interests, the different spaces they navigate, the temporalities of participation and alternative ways of thinking about impact or outcomes. Juan Cobo Brito “… what we have is strength, we have made the effort, we are worthy, our lives, have worth and we are going to demand it. […] Because we have to preserve our memories, our stories.” Juan is the current Vice-President of the COCOP Victim Committee. He was severely injured during the COCOP massacre and later forced to become part of the Civil Defense Patrols. Juana Santiago Cedillo “… that they see our, our conflict, that they see the problems that we face, why did we lose our families? That they recognize it, that is the only thing, the only thing I demand is justice.” Juana is a survivor of the COCOP massacre, who after many years of living in Guatemala City, returned to Nebaj to actively seek redress for the crimes committed against her and her family. To learn more about the community and their struggle, you can read the report “COCOP: Crónicas del genocidio” or listen to the moving song “Los mártires de COCOP” which is part of the Songs of Resistance Compilation. Voice over: Mauro Morales and Ana Paula Oxom
December 16, 2021
How do we talk about time and temporality in the Chilean transition?
In this episode we reflect on the Chilean transitional justice process and questions related to time and timing. Firstly, we zoom in on the concept of temporality, which refers to the lived experience of time. Secondly, we take a closer look at the implementation and sequencing of the Chilean transitional justice process and the consequences of this temporal organization for victims of human rights violations. Our two guests, Noemí Baeza and Haydee Oberreuter, talk about the return of memories during the social protest movement that erupted in Chile in 2019, the timing of the Chilean truth commissions and the imposition of a law that was established with the second truth commission (The “Valech Commission” in 2003), imposing effectively 50 years of silence. A law that, according to Haydee Oberreuter, victims’ never asked for and severely limited access to truth and justice. Highlighting the experiences of Haydee and Noemí, both survivors of political detention and torture, the episode demonstrates unfulfilled promises of the Chilean transition and the daily consequences of overlooking the needs of victim/survivors. Haydee Oberreuter “the imposition of 50 years of silence. 50 years of silence that prevented our testimonies from being known by the courts.” “And the courts work at the speed of a turtle, that thinks and thinks what it is going to do. It is delaying and thereby facilitating the installation of impunity at a rate that is convenient exclusively to the violators of human rights.” Noemí Baeza worked as a teacher and social worker and is a survivor of political detention and torture. She returned to Chile in 1984 after 10 years of exile in the Netherlands. Haydee Oberreuter is one of the leaders of the Comando Unitario de Ex Prisioneros Políticos y Familiares and spokesperson of the NGO Derechos en Común. She is a survivor of political detention and torture. Voice over: Gretel Mejía Bonifazi Audio fragment protests: Daniela Zubicueta
November 17, 2021
How do we talk about truth in South Africa?
"There was this tsunami of truths" - Antjie Krog In 1995, South Africa installed a Truth and Reconciliation commission to address the legacy of Apartheid. The commission has received a lot of criticism, for its failure to provide reparations, its amnesty policy, and several other reasons. Yet, it has also been an important factor in shaping how we think about past injustice, as well as shaping how we think about truth. In this episode we talk with Antjie Krog, a South African journalist, writer and poet whose writings often reflect on elements related to truth and redress for victims. Her seminal work of literary non-fiction Country of My Skull addressed the Truth and Reconciliation commission's hearings. In her nuanced reflections, she acknowledges the failings of this Commission, and truth commissions more generally, but also states that "I can't imagine the country without it. Even those who cut themselves off from what is happening there, it has reached them in a way". We talk with her about how the work of the truth and reconciliation commission has sometimes been complemented with narrative and literary efforts to engage with the concept of truth and justice, and examine where the two can meet. "I do not think literature can do the work that a truth commission did. Literature can look afterwards, and literature should work before."
October 29, 2021
How do we talk about justice for Syrians?
When the Syrian uprising started in 2011, justice and accountability were key demands of the protest movement. Civil society activists and international stakeholders embraced the transitional justice paradigm to accompany the hoped-for transition. However, the Assad regime’s policies of annihilation crushed the uprising and led to a civil war, with an increasing number of perpetrators of crimes. While states failed to provide a meaningful response, Syrian and international stakeholders continue to pursue justice in a situation where impunity seems the norm. In this episode, Brigitte Herremans makes the case for opening the ‘justice imagination’, stretching the boundaries of what is imaginable in terms of justice. She sheds a light on how justice actors try to overcome the justice impasse, notably with regard to the crimes of forcible disappearances and kidnappings. Brigitte also shares insights from an article she co-authored with Tine Destrooper, exploring the concepts of invisibilization and erasure of experiences of Syrian victims. To demonstrate how these crimes are foregrounded concretely, Brigitte spoke to Maryam al-Hallak and Yasmin Fedda. Maryam is a founding member of the Caesar Families Association, gathering families who identified missing relatives through a collection of photographs known as the Caesar Files. Her son Ayham was forcibly disappeared and killed by the regime, and she never retrieved his body. Yasmin Fedda is a Palestinian-Syrian filmmaker who lectures at Queen Mary University of London. She directed the documentary Ayouni, chronicling the story of media activist Bassel Safadi and Italian priest Paolo, who are respectively disappeared and executed by the regime and kidnapped by ISIS. Maryam and Yasmin share some of the complexities of this quest and highlight the importance of making sure these crimes are not forgotten.
September 24, 2021
Spotlight on Germany and Namibia
The German recognition of the genocide in Namibia In June, Germany officially recognized the genocide against the Herero and Nama people of 1904-1908, acknowledging the responsibility of the German colonial authorities in Namibia and offering a reparation of 1,1 billion euros. Nama and Herero people were deliberately targeted under German colonization, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths (estimates go as far as 80% of the Herero and Nama minorities), confiscation of land and livestock, and inhumane treatment. In this episode, we talk with Professor Reinhart Kößler and Mrs. Ida Hoffmann to understand what triggered the German recognition of the genocide, how it has been received by various actors concerned, and whether and how these questions are relevant for the expanding field of transitional justice. While the UN officially recognized this genocide already back in 1985, Germany only lately started using this language. As Professor Kößler argues, "the German official language really skirted around that word genocide for a very long time when it came to Namibia and the German past as a colonial power in general. They even went to great length to avoid talking about genocide." Justice is still a long way ahead, insists Mrs. Hoffmann. "This is not justice because all of the sudden, the two governments are talking now today. The majority of the Nama people are not there, the traditional leaders. The Herero traditional leaders are not there. With whom they are talking? There is no way where our government can just together with the German government come in and decide on how much will be paid. Acknowledgment is what we want, the round table with that acknowledgment."
July 08, 2021
Spotlight on Belgium
Transitional justice's role in addressing Belgium’s colonial past Belgium is the first country to establish a parliamentary commission dealing with its overseas colonial past in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. The commission was established in July 2020. This happened after the public outcry about George Floyd’s murder, the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, huge anti-racism protests, and a growing debate about Belgium’s colonial heritage, illustrated by the contestation over statues of King Leopold II, who was responsible for widespread atrocities committed under his rule. The mission of this “special commission” is to shed a light on all aspects of Belgium’s colonial past. To this end, it appointed ten experts and four civil society representatives to write a report that was supposed to be released months ago, but which has not been made public to date. Civil society organisations have welcomed the commission as an opportunity to confront Belgium's colonial past and to address contemporary injustices. Yet, many of them are also critical about the process, and particularly about the limited consultation regarding how this process should be designed, the selection of the experts, and the overall lack of transparency. Our interviewee in this episode, Dr. Liliane Umubyeyi, research coordinator at Avocats Sans Frontières, elaborates on the shortcomings of the commission: "Theoretically, it's ambitious and it’s something that could be replicated in other countries. But at this point it's empty. So we have to see something concrete.” While she is cautious about too technical or theoretical an approach, she confirms that the paradigm of transitional justice is potentially an apt one in the Belgian experience: “A commission like this offers an opportunity that, for example, criminal trials wouldn't offer in terms of understanding the different lines of responsibility in historical injustices of going beyond individual responsibility in terms of bringing or finding proofs.”
June 08, 2021
Spotlight on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In this episode, we put a spotlight on the Democratic Republic of Congo where a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) was established in 2003, in an attempt to bring an end to hostilities and pave the way to democratization. However, the TRC was short-lived, leaving victims of mass atrocities with fewer avenues for the right to truth. Recently, the government of President Felix Tshisekedi has shown willingness to support the installment of a new TRC and to set up a reparations fund for victims of mass atrocities. Marit de Haan and Christian Cirhigiri speak with Gentil Kasongo, researcher at Impunity Watch in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, who shares what this new momentum for truth-seeking means for the overall field of TJ in the DRC and for the participation of victims of mass atrocities.
May 07, 2021
Spotlight on Sri Lanka
Accountability and the Human Rights Council Sri Lanka’s present is haunted by memories of the island’s decades-long civil war, which ended just over a decade ago. The war was mainly a clash between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgent group, the latter of which had hoped to establish a separate state for the Tamil minority. Although the Civil War ended in 2009, the current situation in Sri Lanka has only partially improved. A large portion of the Tamil population remains displaced. While there are fewer political and civil rights issues, instances of torture and enforced disappearances persist even in recent years. The Sri Lankan military still occupies predominantly Tamil areas designated as “high-security zones,” though to a lesser extent than during the war. The entrenched impunity for the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war in late 2008 and 2009 in what the United Nations called a “bloodbath”, remains unaccounted for. In January this year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a damning report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The report tracks Sri Lanka’s current, deteriorating human rights situation, identifying developments that “risk the recurrence of… the grave violations of the past.” In March, the HRC adopted a new resolution on Sri Lanka, ramping up international monitoring and scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and the new resolution also mandates the UN human rights office to collect, consolidate and preserve evidence for future prosecutions and make recommendations to the international community on steps they can make to deliver on justice and accountability. In this episode, Tine Destrooper and Sangeetha Yogendran speak with Archana Ravichandradeva, a Canadian lawyer and Senior Advocacy Officer with PEARL, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, a women-led NGO concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. In her role at PEARL, she works to build connections with government officials to advocate for justice and accountability on the island. We discuss accountability and transitional justice efforts in Sri Lanka, and in light of developments before the Human Rights Council.
March 31, 2021
Spotlight on France
What the Charlie Hebdo trial could have learned from transitional justice In 2015 terror attacks against Charlie Hebdo and in a Jewish supermarket paralyzed Paris. All three attackers were killed in standoffs with the police on 9 January 2015. Five years later, during an emotional three-month trial, victims were given a venue to share their testimonies as civil parties. The trial resulted in guilty verdicts against all 14 accused. In this episode, we examine whether it makes sense to look at these trials through the lens of transitional justice and how doing so allows for lesson learning and for organizing the upcoming Bataclan and Nice trials in a more appropriate way. Our interviewees in this episode, Kerstin Bree Carlson and Sharon Weill argue that one of the most remarkable things about this trial was that it worked like two processes running in parallel, barely connected, in what they argue was “a platform for the victims, but a weak criminal case”. During the “truth commission” element of the trial, victims recounted the horrors of the attacks. The criminal responsibility element of the trial, on the contrary, seemed to be much less linked to these events, with those on trial being markedly far removed from the facts recounted by the victims. This offers a warning for future terror trials, but also suggests that there may be things to learn from the domain of transitional justice where both criminal justice, truth-telling, and accountability also have to be navigated in complex settings. How can experiences from the domain of transitional justice help consolidated democracies to better deal with terror attacks and other societal challenges they are facing? And what does it mean for the domain of transitional justice to include these aparadigmatic cases?
February 19, 2021
Spotlight on Guatemala
Dismantling peace and reparations In July 2020, President Alejandro Giammattei issued a series of decrees closing down several institutions created to comply with the Peace Accords signed by the Guatemalan State in 1996. One of these decrees: a) closes the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ), an institution tasked with managing the National Program of Reparations (PNR) for the victims of the armed conflict, and b) orders the transfer of the PNR to the Ministry of Social Development. Neither victims nor civil society organizations were included in the decision-making process that went behind these decrees. Several legal actions have been filed by victims and civil society to abrogate them. In this episode, Tine Destrooper and Gretel Mejía talk to Rocío Herrera, a Guatemalan human rights lawyer working at the Human Rights Law Firm, a Guatemalan NGO that provides legal support in one of these actions. She addresses the implications of the decrees on victims’ access to an adequate, effective, and integral reparation, and on the realities of working with victim communities in pandemic times. Rocío highlights the resilience of Guatemalan people and talks about other intersecting topics, such as the role of strategic litigation to overcome setbacks to transitional justice, and how actors, such as academic centres, can contribute to these interventions. One example are amicus curiae briefs, which explain human rights standards and obligations to the court.
January 21, 2021
Spotlight on Chile
From social protest to reforming rights: understanding Chile’s ongoing transition On the 25th of October 2020, an overwhelming majority of Chilean citizens (78%) voted in favor of redrafting the constitution, following a year of protests. Many believe the constitution of 1980 is withholding Chile from fully leaving behind its past of military dictatorship. Some even call it ‘the constitution of Pinochet’. The referendum was organized in an attempt to meet the demands of protesters that took the streets in October 2019. When Chile initiated its transition to democracy 30 years ago following 17 years of military dictatorship, the case soon became known as a ‘paradigmatic’ case of transitional justice. It is often cited as a successful transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, because of its classical application of transitional justice mechanisms. However, the slogan ‘It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years’, which was often expressed by protesters reflects how the legacy of the dictatorship continues to affect the present. This context begs the question of whether this transition is actually as ‘finished’ as generally assumed, or rather ongoing. In this episode, we talk to Loreto López, a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Program for the Social Psychology of Memory of the Universidad de Chile. We talk about what the process of constitutional reform will look like, and what this change of the constitution means within the broader transitional justice framework. Loreto argues that we should not only focus on the victims of human rights violations and start asking questions about the broader Chilean society. The reform of the constitution is just “going to be a start, the beginning”. What else is needed to adopt a broader culture of human rights in the Chilean context, and what could be the role of public memory in that complex process? Loreto López is a social anthropologist at the Program for the Social Psychology of Memory of the Universidad de Chile. Her expertise is collective memory and Chile’s recent past of military dictatorship. Marit de Haan is a PhD researcher at Justice Visions. She studies the perceptions and needs of justice of victims of the Chilean military dictatorship, focusing on victim participation and restorative justice.
December 17, 2020
Spotlight on Syria
Justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Syria Since the start of the uprising in 2011, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been perpetrated by various parties to the Syrian conflict, mainly the Assad regime, rebel groups, and the Islamic State. Perpetrators resorted to this kind of violence to instill fear, weaken political opposition, punish and deter civilians, and further sectarianism. As the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasizes in its report ‘I lost my dignity’, the suffering induced by these practices impacts Syrians from all backgrounds. Women and girls, however, have been disproportionally affected and victimised, irrespective of the perpetrator or geographical area. And justice for survivors of SGBV is an uphill battle. In this episode, we talk to Mona Zeineddin, of the Syrian NGO Women Now for Development, about the prosecution of SGBV. Mona leads the campaign ‘A Syrian Road to Justice’ that Women Now For Development launched together with four other feminist organizations, to support the first criminal complaint on SGBV that was filed in Germany. The complaint pertains to sexual and gender-based crimes committed in Syrian government-run detention centres. As their recent report ‘Surviving freedom’ demonstrates, the suffering of victims often continues upon release as they are exposed to discrimination and stigmatization. ‘There’s a lot of hesitance from witnesses or survivors to talk about these sorts of crimes’, elucidates Mona. The relentless efforts of activists, NGOs, and international bodies have put SGBV higher on the agenda, raising awareness about the obstacles to justice and the need to address the physical, psychological and socio-economic harm that survivors have endured and continue to endure. Mona emphasizes that these joint efforts will eventually lead to transformation. ‘This is a structural issue and it’s not binary in the sense that men are not affected also by the patriarchy, by toxic masculinity, by militarism. It affects both genders, albeit differently, of course.’
December 03, 2020
Spotlight on Cambodia
What does the death of defendants in high-profile transitional justice cases mean for victims? On 2 September 2020, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, a former senior figure of the Khmer Rouge convicted of war crimes against humanity in Cambodia, died. He was serving a life sentence after being found guilty of war crimes by the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in 2010. He was in charge of the S-21 Security Centre in Phnom Penh, where at least 12,000 people were tortured and killed, and only a handful survived. In this episode, we talk to Samphoas Huy, a former Outreach Coordinator with the Victims Unit of the ECCC. She talks about what the passing of Duch means for Cambodia, especially in a situation where there are only a small number of defendants before the ECCC. She also explains what it means for the future of transitional justice in Cambodia if the remaining cases before the ECCC would not go to trial.
November 11, 2020
Memory: securing the past and imagining the future
Memory and narratives play a crucial role in transitional justice. What do we remember of past violence, and how do we narrate those memories? In which ways can such narratives, in all their complexity, help us to better understand violence? Literature is one place where we often find narratives of violence, but also in transitional justice narratives are everywhere: they lie at the basis of truth-seeking, and criminal justice trials might stand or fall depending on how victims narrate their memories. In this podcast episode, we talk to Lyndsey Stonebridge, Professor of Humanities and Human Rights at Birmingham University. In her book ‘The Judicial imagination: writing after Nuremberg’ she touches upon issues such as what it means to tell a story, how we listen, and how to make sure that victims’ voices are adequately captured?
September 29, 2020
Universal jurisdiction: the unthinkable becomes thinkable
How to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity or war crimes accountable? Bringing perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide to justice is a complex task, and it tends to be extremely difficult to find courts willing to prosecute perpetrators within the territories where crimes have been committed. However, when domestic trials or referrals to an international court are not possible, universal jurisdiction offers a way to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes in other states. Universal jurisdiction has thus made the unthinkable thinkable: allowing for the prosecution of internationally recognized crimes beyond the borders where they took place. In this episode, we take as a starting point the cases currently taking place in Germany against former officials of the Syrian regime. We talk to Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Thijs Bouwknegt about the meaning, impact, and challenges of trials taking place under universal jurisdiction. What can the courts actually do in such complex cases and what is the role of international solidarity in this story? What is the impact of such international efforts on both victims' expectations and local justice efforts? Naomi Roht-Arriaza is Professor of Law at The University of California Hastings College of the Law. She is the author of the impactful publication The Pinochet Effect: transitional justice in the age of human rights Thijs Bouwknegt is a researcher at NIOD and Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). His expertise is transitional justice, the ICC and universal jurisdiction.
June 29, 2020
What about social and economic rights?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about human rights violations? Chances are that you are thinking about issues like torture, political detention, disappearance or extrajudicial killings – in other words, violations of civil and political rights. This set of rights continues to enjoy a privileged status in a lot of the human rights scholarship and practice. Unsurprisingly, violations of these rights have also been the focus of most transitional justice interventions. In the past decade, however, we’ve witnessed more attention for violations of economic, social and cultural rights: when combatants poison a drinking well, burn crops or loot health infrastructure, these are acts that constitute violations of economic, social and cultural rights – and they can be prosecuted. Moreover, violations of economic, social and cultural rights are often related to violations of civil and political rights, as well as to larger issues of social and economic injustice – but how exactly? In recent years, a lot of excellent scholarship and practice started to provide answers to this question. In this episode, we talk to three experts on this topic: Evelyne Schmid from the University of Lausanne is a leading expert on social, economic and cultural rights and international criminal justice. Simon Robins is a humanitarian practitioner and senior research fellow at the University of York working on social-economic justice. Zinaida Miller is Assistant Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University Together with them, we explore what room there is within the existing legal framework of transitional justice, as well as beyond it, to pay more attention to social and economic rights and needs. How can and should transitional justice engage with these issues? What are the pitfalls? And what if victims were the ones to shape the transitional justice agenda: would they prioritize truth and justice, or rather their social and economic needs? And is there really such a strong dichotomy?
May 28, 2020
When talking about victim participation in transitional justice processes, we need to better understand the notions of victim, victimhood, and victimization, as well as the related phenomena of retraumatization and tertiary victimization. In this episode, we talk to scholars, practitioners, and artists to arrive at a more responsive and empowering understanding.
April 30, 2020
The evolution of the field (with Laurel Fletcher)
From the previous episode, it became clear how strongly the field of transitional justice is interwoven with that of international criminal justice. What does that mean for the evolution of the field of transitional justice and where it is going, especially with regard to the role played by victims in this process? In this episode we talk to Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley Law, to better understand where we come from and where we are headed, and what the most important evolutions are to expect in the next decade.
April 01, 2020
Legal opportunities and challenges
Victim participation is receiving increasing attention in transitional justice. In the pilot episode, it became clear that there is potentially tremendous value in victim participation, but that there are also many pitfalls. Before we dive into the murkiest questions facing us in practice, we take a step back and ask two of the legal experts affiliated to Justice Visions, Stephan Parmentier and Rudina Jasini, what is even possible – legally speaking – in terms of victim participation: what formal restrictions are there, and how do these affect the avenues and modalities of victim participation and the justice process itself. We also reflect with them on some of the experiences of practitioners, like Sangeetha Yogendran, in this regard.
February 28, 2020
Pilot: Introduction to Justice Visions
Welcome to the pilot episode of Justice Visions Talks, your go-to for everything that is new and innovative in the domain of transitional justice. In this short introductory episode, we want to briefly tell you more about what you can expect from us, how this podcast came about and why you should listen to it.
December 11, 2019