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Panel: The Politics of Victimhood, Memory and Reparation

Reparations as Resistance

Dr. Luke Moffett, Professor, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast

The practice of reparations in transitional justice and human rights law has arisen not simply out of international legal norms, but the mobilisation and advocacy of victims and their allies to resist the impunity around the atrocities they suffered. Reparations often take years and decades for them to be realised, if at all.

This paper explores the place of victims resisting the narratives of the State, coercive tactics and violence against them. It also reflects on the impact of resistance on victims. While there is an emerging literature on the benefit of social mobilisation in terms of building solidarity amongst victims and peer-peer support, this paper considers the long-term impact on victims’ relationships and health in awaiting for reparations. This also has implications for the purported benefits of reparations in terms of trust, reconciliation and a sense of satisfaction. Drawing on interviews with over 100 victims, this paper develops three themes of thinking about victim participation and resistance in terms of: adversity and adversarial; struggle; and living with the past.

The Political Purpose of Victim Participation: Omens for Memorialisation ‘From Above’ in NI

Micheál Hearty, Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University

Victim redress provision ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ has had differing fortunes in the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland (NI). A combination of inadequacies in devised and implemented mechanisms, as well as a rejection and failure to implement proposed legacy mechanisms, has left victims feeling frustrated and dissatisfied at redress provision ‘from above’. In contrast, actors operating ‘from below’ have undertaken projects with a victim participation element, including memorialisation, that have been successful in aiding victims to manage and alleviate their suffering. Proclaimed by NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to ‘deliver positive outcomes for as many of those directly affected by the Troubles as possible’, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill (Legacy Bill) could be perceived as the British Government’s attempt to change the fortunes of victim redress provision ‘from above’ in NI. The Legacy Bill, however, has proven to be highly controversial and has faced universal disapproval from victim groups/campaigners and political parties in NI. The unifying issue has been the Legacy Bill’s approach to prosecutions, especially the conditional impunity which would be available to perpetrators. This paper wishes to focus on an aspect of the Legacy Bill which is commonly overlooked due to the conditional impunity controversy-memorialisation. It will consider two questions: how have victims used their participation in memorialisation ‘from below’ in NI; could victim participation in memorialisation that stems from the Legacy Bill be impacted by its contentious conditional impunity aspect.

Victimhood, Agency and the Mobilisation of Empathy

Dr. Cheryl Lawther, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast

Claiming to develop the agency of victims and survivors is frequently presented as central to the work of transitional justice interventions and victim and survivor groups. This foregrounding of agency is a direct response to how victims have historically been positioned as ‘spectators’ to justice interventions undertaken in their name and the (assumption) that conflict disempowers and strips individuals of their agency. Within this framing, agency and participation often appear as an exclusively positive attributes, something that enables one to ‘do good’. Yet, scholars have cautioned against homogenizing and reifying victims’ associations ‘as pure, passive, or framed in exclusively positive or romanticized terms’ (Krystalli and Schulz 2022: 12). Moreover, the moral economy of victimhood can compel individuals and group leaders to convey their suffering in a particular register in the attempt to make their losses ‘matter’ over and above the experience of other victims and survivors and in the quest to achieve resources, status and ‘mobilise empathy’ (Wilson and Brown 2008).

What Jeffrey and Candea (2006) term ‘victimhood work’ may, in its most challenging manifestations, translate into the appropriation of victims’ suffering, the disenfranchisement of survivors, the creation of ‘transitional justice entrepreneurs’ and a victim’s ‘industry’. Drawing on fieldwork with victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict this paper critically interrogates the intersection between victimhood, agency and participation in victims’ groups and how empathy is mobilised in transitional contexts.

Who are Franco’s Victims? The Political Life of a Social and Legal Category

Dr. Vincent Druliolle, Assistant Professor, University of Deusto

The paper analyzes the (re-)appropriations of the category of victim of Franco (víctima del franquismo) by various actors in contemporary Spain. After highlighting that it is a relatively recent category, the paper analyses how a growing number of actors have used it to define themselves and demand justice over the past two decades. It shows that Franco’s victims are not just the victims of the repression of the dictatorship, but also those of other forms of violence and crimes. The paper argues that the use of the category is not just an attempt to accurately characterise the cause of the suffering of victims. The actors’ self-definitions are largely determined by the existing range of categories to be recognized as victims in the first place, or what may be called the ‘labeling opportunity structure’.

One key reason why the label victims of Franco was adopted is that it is seen as a way of acquiring visibility and as an opportunity to obtain justice, which is one of the consequences of the investigation of Franco’s cimes by an Argentinian court. Various self-defined victims of Franco are discussed. Finally, the conclusion reflects about some of the consequences of the spread of the category in contemporary Spain.