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Panel: Institutions, Discourse and the (De-)Construction of Victimhood and Justice in Transition

Formal Participation, de Facto Exclusion? Institutional Design and the Impact of TJ Standardization in Uganda

Dr. Thomas Obel Hansen, Maria Zambrano Distinguished Researcher, Carlos III University, Madrid Senior Lecturer in Law, Ulster University School of Law/ Transitional Justice Institute

TJ standardization “took away the demand for justice from the people who are affected like me and made it a subject for people who have no idea on what happened to be the champion of the pursuit of justice (author’s interview, Uganda, 2022).

This paper seeks to understand how the international standardization of TJ has impacted processes in the country, focusing on involvement and participation of local stakeholders including victims. Exploring the institutional set up of TJ in the country and the processes surrounding it, the paper examines how notions of ‘local consultation’; ‘participation’; and ‘victims-centered’ have been ‘imported’ into the Ugandan context to be utilized in the context of justifying the approaches taken by stakeholders involved in the design of TJ in the country. Yet, the paper argues, such rhetoric may reflect as much a tick-the-box approach, driven by donors and international actors demands to TJ processes, as a genuine intention among decision-makers to give meaningful effect to such principles. The consequence may be, the paper argues, formal ‘compliance’ with ideas about civil society and victim participation, as endorsed by international standards and guidelines about TJ, but an outcome that has de facto failed to meet the expectations and demands of local civil society and victims groups. The paper, which draws on extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders in Uganda conducted in 2022-23, pays particular attention to the process surrounding the adoption of Uganda’s TJ Policy The paper frames this empirical analysis within – and seeks to contribute to –TJ discourses concerning the emerging strand of literature about standardization in TJ; participation and exclusion; as well as ‘TJ actors’ discourse including regarding civil society and victims group.

Victim Politics and State Representation as Participation in Transitional Justice

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

Transitional justice is here conceived as an intersecting set of social and political processes that unfold in multiple formal and informal spaces. While ‘zero-sum’ approaches to victim participation have understood it as something that can only happen at the expense of the dominance of the state, here processes are explored where victims have mobilised politically and either assumed roles within state structures or built effective alliances where those close to state power share their agenda.

Two case studies are investigated: First, that of Tunisia, where victims linked to Islamists – who constituted the bulk of victims of the dictatorship overthrown in the 2011 revolution – were represented among, and shared ideology with, the Islamist party that was a part of government. It is argued that this represents a particularly effective form of agency for victims, given that victims’ perspectives and goals were shared by those with access to state power who could mould the transitional justice process. The second context is that of Nepal, where the post-conflict dispensation at the federal level was characterized by political parties instrumentalizing victims as constituencies to leverage for their own advantage.

However, an additional element of the peace agreement was the decentralization of power through the creation of provincial and municipal authorities. Such institutions allowed for the effective representation of both conflict victims and marginalized groups that had long been victims of structural violence at the hands of ethnic and caste elites. This has allowed victims to be elected as representatives of their people and see their historical victimhood as a foundation for a political agenda, representing a unique form of agency relevant for transitional justice implemented at a local level that can contest or complement a national process.

War and Peace by Other Means: The Narrative Construction of Victimhood in Societies Transitioning from Conflict

Alejandro Posada-Téllez, PhD candidate in International Relations, University of Oxford

In societies transitioning from internal armed conflict, narratives of victimhood frequently become sites of intense political contestation between actors seeking to advance their accounts of past violence. Although the study of victims of wartime violence has become increasingly important across the social sciences over the last two decades, previous research has overlooked the implications of institutionalising particular victim narratives into the formal processes and mechanisms of transitional justice. The scholarship has consequently failed to gauge how officially sanctioned victimhood narratives may influence post-conflict orders and the kind of peace being built in transitional societies. In light of these disciplinary shortcomings, I ask: In what ways do state actors instrumentalise narratives of victimhood in societies transitioning from conflict; and what impact do these narratives have on post-settlement power relations and peacebuilding? To explore this question, I devise a framework of understanding grounded in critical theory. The framework surveys how the (re)production of victimhood narratives can shape modalities of truth and knowledge production, configure power relations, and structure peacebuilding processes in societies emerging from conflict. Using critical discourse analysis, I apply my framework to compare practices of victim representation in the mechanisms of transitional justice established in Sri Lanka, Colombia, Sierra Leone, and the United Kingdom, revealing the ways in which state power operates in and through these practices to produce ‘legitimate’ victims. My conclusions point to the importance of official victimhood narratives in understanding the socio-political organisation of post-settlement orders and the peace being built in the aftermath of internal armed conflict.

Analysing Participatory Spaces in Post-Conflict Societies: Case Studies of Reparation and Reconstruction Programmes

Dr. Justina Pinkeviciute, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University

The success of reparation and recovery plans following violent conflicts hinges significantly on the active participation of victims. However, in contexts where democratic processes are compromised by powerful economic interests, the inclusion of participatory mechanisms is often used to legitimise the existing power structures rather than promote transformative change. Such participatory spaces become susceptible to external manipulation. This paper delves into the complexities of victim participation in reparation and reconstruction programs in societies impacted by large-scale violence and destruction. Using Colombia and Ukraine as case studies, the study outlines an analytical framework to explore the dynamics of participation in formal and informal spaces of reparation and reconstruction efforts. Central to this framework is an exploration of how participation can be co-opted and the countermeasures taken by civil society to resist such encroachments. The paper underscores the imperative to critically assess and strengthen participatory spaces against undue external influences in (post)war recovery and transitional justice.