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Panel: The Possibilities of the Arts for Imagining Justice in Non-Transition

A Rights-Based Approach to Victims’ Participation in Aparadigmatic Contexts

Dr. Huma Saeed, Affiliated Senior Researcher, KU Leuven

In situations of aparadigmatic transitions, where formal transitional justice mechanisms do not exist, or may
only partially exist, an essential question that arises is whether to perceive “victims” as passive individuals or
as active agents of change. Reflecting on my fieldwork in Kabul with war victims since 2008, I argue that a
rights-based approach can play an important role in transitional justice discourse and practice in relation to
victims. This approach emphasizes participation, accountability, nondiscrimination and empowerment. Above
all, it accentuates the notion of local people’s agency, where, ‘in grammatical terms, it moves [people] from
being the objects in somebody else’s sentence to being the subject of their own free speech.’ In particular, I
would like to elaborate this argument through the methodologies used in the Theater of the Oppressed, an
approach spearheaded by the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization to engage, raise
awareness and create participatory forums for war victims in Afghanistan from 2009 to August 2021.

Art as Evidence and Evidence as Art: Thinking About Creative Approaches in Syrian Human Rights Trials

Dr. Adélie Chevée, postdoctoral researcher, Mucem / Aix-Marseille Université (SoMuM, Mesopolhis)

Art has become a crucial participation channel, both within and around transitional justice mechanisms.
Studies have identified “what works” in creative approaches: their benefits and limits in the pursuit of peace
and reconciliation (Cohen 2020; Fairey et Kerr 2020). However, the relationship between art and justice may
be ambiguous. On the one hand, art moves participation beyond formal legal processes, revealing subaltern
narratives that would otherwise be silenced. On the other hand, admitting art as evidence in criminal trials
may further inequalities, for example when rap music is used to criminalize Afro-Americans (Kerr 2023). Using
Syrian art as a case study, this paper shifts the focus from the impact of creative approaches (their social
effects) to their content (what they materially consist of). As Syrian grassroots actors have mobilized the
rhetoric and tools of transitional justice to further anti-authoritarian resistance (Herremans et Bellintani
2023), this paper explores how Syrian artists understand and work through the notion of “evidence” of crimes,
whether as material object or as testimony. It comparatively analyzes artistic participation in three human
rights trials: the al-Khatib trial in Germany, the Swedish criminal complaint on the Syrian government’s use of
chemical weapons, and preparation for the trial of a militia man in France. For each case, the paper explores
artistic engagements in visual art and theatre, especially how artists have relied on criminal evidence to do art,
or used art to document crimes. It argues that creative approaches complemented subjectivity gaps while
questioning the factual nature of evidence.

The Perilous Art of Justice in South Sudan: Examining the Paradox of Artistic Invisibility in Transitional Justice in Times of Fragile Peace

Dr. Sayra van den Berg, post-doctoral research associate, University of York

In South Sudan promises of transitional justice remain unfulfilled, peace remains fragile and levels of social
repression are high. In the face of these limitations, artists and activists are turning to the arts as creative
spaces to pursue reconciliation and resistance. This paper ethnographically explores the justice imaginations
and desires embedded within artistic practices in South Sudan and highlights the opportunities and risks that
accompany their recognition as part of the wider ecology of transitional justice.

At the level of opportunity this paper argues for expanding the gaze of transitional justice. In South Sudan
artistic practices including music, murals and political cartoons bring embodied harm and hope into
conversation in unique ways. This paper empirically examines how the arts are used as tools for resistance,
accountability, reconciliation and transformation to communicate embodied harm and express justice hopes.
Using a desire-centred research approach this paper argues for the dignifying potential of artistic practices as
meaningful sites of transitional justice.

At the level of risk this paper explores the dangers of artistic expression in South Sudan. It grapples with the
paradox of artistic invisibility in the wider transitional justice landscape in South Sudan, whereby the
restrictive vocabulary of transitional justice obscures the contributions of artistic spaces but simultaneously
shields them from tight government controls and censorship.

Anchored in dignity as decolonial research method this paper unpacks the opportunities and risks held within
the arts in South Sudan as significant but vulnerable sites of transitional justice in need of both recognition
and protection.

Prison Abolition and the International Criminal Court (ICC)

Charlotte Carney, PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

Scholars increasingly question the efficiency of the current transitional justice framework in fostering redress
and reconciliation. Within this corpus of literature, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is primarily of focus,
being heralded for its expansive approach to international justice whilst simultaneously criticised for its
practices. Specifically, the ICC faces criticisms from non-Western states, and post-colonial scholars, for its
‘African focus.’ As most of the ICC’s cases are from African states, scholars argue that it is a tool for continued
colonial control, rather than transitional justice. Scholars also argue that the court’s victim approach, and use
of detention, is ineffective in providing restorative redress. These critiques of the ICC, and broader questions
posed to transitional justice, parallel arguments made in the prison abolition literature. Specifically, the prison
abolition literature analyses punitive punishment through a victim centred lens, questioning the feasibility of
providing effective redress under a system founded on structural racism. Considering these similarities, this
paper explores how prison abolition literature can contribute to critical analyses of the current transitional
justice framework. To do this, this paper will focus on the ICC and its use of detention, questioning if the use of
detention in the international system fosters victim-centred reconciliation. Through this analysis, this paper
does not seek to minimise the need for retributive justice for victims, but rather asks if the ICC’s current
framework is effective by considering the well-developed prison abolition literature.