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Panel: Reconceptualising Victim Mobilisation, Justice and (non-)Transition in the MENA Region

How Transitional justice is Understood in Yemen

Sarah Alareqi, PhD student at Durham University

Since 2014, Yemen is experiencing an armed conflict. Parties to the conflict continue to commit countless war
crimes and Yemenis remain subject to social, economic, and political injustices. While the war will eventually
end, the conflict based on long-standing grievances will continue. Resolving this will require some form of
transitional justice. For transitional justice to be successful it must include and be sensitive to local voices and
perspectives.

This paper will explore to what extent Yemeni voices are represented in the transitional justice debates around
Yemen. The paper will show how knowledge of transitional justice debates is constructed, who are the actors,
and whether Yemenis are included. Using a theoretical framework built around local experiential
epistemologies and an understanding of the politics of knowledge production, the research will discuss two
points. First, (legal) accountability for war crimes in Yemen is rarely discussed by international, usually
Western diplomats and experts. Second, the little existing debate revolves around a highly Euro-centric
discourse that focuses on Western-centric practices. Third, NGOs and their (Western) donors exhibit a strong
preference to simply replicate seemingly ‘ready to use’ transitional justice models, even though such models
stem from other contexts that are not comparable.

The paper concludes that the near-to complete exclusion of Yemenis in the transitional justice debate on
Yemen stymies accountability in the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, it undermines the foundation of any future
transitional justice process. Thus, developing a local Yemeni perspective on transitional justice that takes
different regions, sects, and vulnerable communities and their experience into account will be needed.

Bottom-Up Transformative Justice: An Alternative to the Liberal Peace Paradigm in the Question of Palestine

Tamara Tamimi; PhD Student, Queen’s University Belfast

As part of the liberal peace paradigm, Western countries have framed “conflict resolution” in Palestine-Israel
through the advancement of the two-state solution, based on a conceptualisation of military occupation. Apart
from the failure of this approach and its lack of engagement with the wishes of the Palestinian people, several
issues arise from the imposition of a two-state solution from the outside. First, it entrenches the
fragmentation of Palestinians. Second, it does not capture Israeli settler colonial measures. Third, it excludes
key Palestinian groups and events.

This paper forms part of my broader PhD research and advances the approach of bottom-up transformative
justice, operationalised through centralising Palestinian voices at the heart of any political process and peace
solutions. In this sense, bottom-up transformative justice would serve as a decolonial alternative to the liberal
peace paradigm.

To this end, the paper argues to expand the conceptual framework on Palestine beyond military occupation to
include settler colonialism, demonstrating its added value, including but not limited to opening up avenues for
decolonial approaches. Thereafter, the paper moves to show how settler colonialism in the case of Palestine
demonstrates a ‘state of exception’, which provides for bespoke solutions instead of reproducing the liberal
peace paradigm in imposing solutions utilised in other settler colonial contexts. Last, the paper coins bottomup
transformative justice by presenting fieldwork findings on perceptions of justice, linking them to local
justice mechanisms and their benefits, and feminist approaches of intersectionality and bringing voices ‘from
the margin to the centre’.

Victims’ Agency and Relational Autonomy in Transitional Justice: Saturday Mothers’ Experience

Dr. Günes Dasli, lecturer, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics, Freie Universität Berlin

Despite its popular usage, the concept of agency is mainly underdiscussed in transitional justice. Creating
avenues for agency opens up possibilities for localizing transitional justice and emancipating it from the bonds
of being state-centered and top down. This article seeks to do a theoretical debate of understanding the
complexity of the concept of agency supported by the findings collected through in-depth interviews with
activists in the Saturday Mothers, the victims’ group in Turkey. To answer this question, it develops a holistic
understanding for victims’ practices and perceptions of justice by introducing “relational autonomy” to the
field.

The assessment of the functions of participation in the Saturday Mothers by unpacking the forms of agency is
summarized as follows: 1) creating a political family based on care, friendship, and solidarity, 2) mitigating
isolation; and 3) complex relation with vulnerability and activism. Later, I analyze the ways in which they
perform agency and how their imaginations and practices of justice interact. The political family which
challenges the conventional notion of family, based on kinship, allows them to demand justice not only for
themselves but for all victims regarded as the part of the ‘big family.’ Coping with loneliness opens a space to
(re)believe justice and (re)motivate victims to demand justice. The collective experience transforms a helpless
‘why’ into a demanding why by the victims to seek the truth. The agency-centered approach innovatively
provides a holistic lens to understand local agency, thus victims’ needs.

Too Ordinary to be Truths? Gender, Social Death, and the Biopolitics of Speech, in the Tunisian Truth and Dignity
Commission

Dr. Sélima Kebaïli, Senior Lecturer, University of Geneva, Institute for Gender Studies

If, as legal scholar Martha Minow wrote, transitional justice aims “to replace violence with words and terror
with fairness” (1999), the concern in this presentation is with the conditions necessary for violence to become
intelligible in the context of truth commission hearings. The communication builds on four years of
ethnography on female victims’ participation in the Tunisian Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC – 2014-218),
tasked with investigating the violations committed by the prerevolutionary Tunisian regime. Many women
recounted their experiences of testifying in front of the TDC as being traumatic and leading to a feeling of
dispossession of their own stories. In this presentation, I make the case that these negative effects are less
due to the victims’ difficulty to speak but rather due to the experts’ failure to recognize the forms of suffering
expressed as forms of gendered violence. As I show, the transitional justice gender approach, built on a
definition of political violence as events targeting the body that bears witness to it, marginalized the
narratives of the female victims who focused their testimony on the social death generated by political
violence. This communication presents a concrete example of the conflicting effects of the gender-based
definition of violence and reveals how the transitional justice definition of violence, because it focuses on
events rather than ordinary forms of violence, eludes the structural character of gender-based violence.