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Panel: Diversifying Epistemologies and Methodologies in, against, and beyond Transitional Justice

“Visible Mending” and Transitional Justice

Dr. Matthew Evans, Senior Lecturer in Law Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex and Visiting Researcher in Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This paper considers the notion of ‘visible mending’ in relation to transitional justice. As a practice in textile arts and crafts, ‘visible mending’ has a long history and has drawn recent attention in academic and popular discourse in relation to sustainable fashion movements and regarding its possible therapeutic effects. The paper uses the metaphor of ‘visible mending’ as a lens through which to view the (supposed) aims of transitional justice. It is argued that, in (post-conflict, post-authoritarian, post-atrocity) contexts where transitional justice tends to be applied, there is value added in considering the extent to which societal harms could and should be visibilised through, and in addition to, their repair. This recognises both the impossibility of straightforwardly undoing past harms and the imperative to address their impacts and legacies. The paper, further, links this to the growing literature on transformative justice as a critical approach within, or an alternative to, transitional justice, arguing that ‘visible mending’ offers a way in which to conceive the relationship between past injustice and a potential transformative future.

Decentering and Decolonising the Field of Transitional Justice: Lessons from the Work of Colombia’s Truth Commission

Dr. Claire Wright, Research Fellow, Queen’s University Belfast

While Latin America has a shared history of colonial past, conflict, and experiences of Transitional Justice (TJ), there have been just a handful of studies focusing on how the region’s indigenous peoples have experienced peacebuilding processes (see e.g. Rivera Rodríguez, 2019; Guerra Curvelo, 2017). The case of Colombia is significant, given the differentialised affectation of indigenous and other peoples by the armed conflict and the acknowledgement of this victimhood by the Havana Peace Accord of 2016. As a result, an intercultural approach was mandated for the Colombian Truth Commission (CEV), created after a process of prior consultation with leaders of indigenous, afro-descendant, and Rom (or gypsy) peoples. The aim of this article is to analyse the way in which the CEV has attempted to decenter and decolonise its work in constructing memory and what lessons this experience could hold for scholars of Transitional Justice.

Victim Mobilisation as Participation and Transformation in Transitional Justice: Families of the Missing in Nepal

Ram Kumar Bhandari, Researcher at Center for Law and Transformative Change (CLTC)
Dr. Simon Robins, Centre for Applied Human rights, University of York

This study reports on local and national mobilisation of families of the missing in Nepal, notably through the Network of Families of the Disappeared, Nepal (NEFAD). Processes are explored where victims have mobilised collectively at multiple levels to impact social institutions within which they are embedded as well as advocating for formal process, to address the range of impacts of having a missing relative. Dominated by poor, often indigenous women, victims’ needs encompassed that for truth and justice, as well as basic economic essentials, an end to stigma in family and community, and broader demands for social and political inclusion for the communities from which they come. While their initial coming together was driven by a simple need for solidarity and peer support, this process was seen to be highly empowering, creating spaces where women could renegotiate what their victimhood – as families of the missing – meant, and providing a platform for those meanings to be challenged and transformed. The lens of ambiguous loss shows how participation, as a set of social processes, can address some of the impacts of having a missing relative, even where – as in Nepal – the state refuses to act.

Mobilisation has meant the creation of spaces for psychosocial support and broader empowerment that have provided a springboard for families to become visible and be represented in national transitional justice process, on their own terms. Victim participation in transitional justice is here understood as process that privileges the agency of victims, understanding them as social actors able to shape how they experience victimhood, embodying a critical victimology. Participation is inherently political because it is intimately concerned with power relations, not just a politics of the state but a politics in all the spaces with which victims’ lives intersect.

The Transitional Justice Citizen: From Justice Receiver to Justice Seeker

Dr. Briony Jones, Reader of International Development, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick

The way in which transitional justice has developed as a field has led to a failure to take into account the articulation (and its impact) of varied political projects. The field is concerned primarily with certain crimes, individual experiences of these crimes, and is deeply embedded in discourses and practices of contemporary neoliberalism and globalisation. This has both epistemological and methodological implications, as voices are unheard, violations unseen, and practice blind spots produced. This paper is concerned with the particular blind spots of context and history and will trace the importance of framings of citizen agency and activism in the policy as well as the everyday unfolding of transitional justice processes. Drawing from work recently published in The Transitional Justice Citizen: From Justice Receiver to Justice Seeker (2023, Edward Elgar) and using examples from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cote d’Ivoire and Tunisia, the paper makes the argument that the transitional justice citizen, while framed through policy as a passive receiver of justice, is in fact an active seeker of justice seeking to expand and contest the justice on offer and to remind transitional justice advocates of the wider political projects that underpin both violence and peace.

Understanding the Implications of Victimhood Identity in Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict

Dr. Nisan Alici, Queen’s University Belfast

This paper looks into the issues surrounding the construction and complexities of victimhood in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict, by primarily focusing on Kurds who have experienced state violence. Drawing on 24 in-depth interviews with individuals, who either have a victimisation experience or worked closely with victim groups, the paper focuses on the connotations of the term victim and analyse 1) how victims identify and make sense of their victimhood and 2) what various perceptions of victimhood the grassroots actors hold. Capturing the implications of victim status and connotations of victimhood may help design peacebuilding and transitional justice mechanisms in line with the demands and experiences of those who have been most affected by the conflict. Most of my interviews entail an understanding of victimhood that implies the vulnerabilities of victims automatically means stripping the victims from their agency. However, the dominant understanding that emphasises the empowerment and resistance of the victims, risks ignoring some essential parts of the victimisation experience. Vulnerability and agency are not mutually exclusive; and difficult emotions such as pain, mourning, anger, and despair can coexist with agency, empowerment, and resistance. Instead of thinking in binaries, I propose a more complex, and multidimensional understanding of victimhood that leaves space for vulnerabilities as much as empowerment.