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Panel: Unpacking Victim Mobilisation around Transitional Justice

Long-term Victim Activism in a Context of Historical Injustice: The Case of Guatemala

Dr. Eva Willems, Post-doctoral Researcher, History Department, Ghent University
Kim Baudewijns, MSc; Philipps-University Marburg

The role of grassroots victim organizations in the Guatemalan TJ process can hardly be overestimated. From the very start of the peace process in 1994, victim groups were actively involved in lobby and negotiation processes with the government and their relentless activism marked the post-dictatorial ‘resurrection of civil society’ (Brett, 2008). Until today, despite being confronted with an extremely adverse political context throughout the last decades, organizations of widows, displaced persons and family members of the disappeared keep on pushing to put truth, justice and reparation on the agenda. In this paper, we examine the temporal dimensions of victim groups’ involvement in TJ. In the Guatemalan context, this temporal dimension is twofold. On the one hand, the long-term engagement of grassroots organizations raises the question about how their strategies, constituencies and demands have changed over time and will evolve in the future. On the other, emerging in a context of historical injustice and its continuities into the present, victims’ demands for retributive justice in Guatemala have mostly gone hand in hand with activism for social and redistributive justice foregrounding the rights of (historically) marginalized groups such as women and indigenous peoples. We examine how these transformative demands and their temporalities coincide or collide with TJ and human rights discourses, policies and actors.

Navigating Non-Transition: Grassroots Victim Mobilization and the Pursuit of Transitional Justice in Turkey and Morocco

Pia Falschebner, Centre for Conflict Studies, Philipps-University Marburg
Dr. Nisan Alici, Queen’s University Belfast

This paper explores the specific implications of aparadigmatic transitional justice contexts for victim mobilisation by bringing together two under-researched cases: Morocco and Turkey. In both countries, victim groups have emerged as active political actors amid violence and inadequate or non-existing transitional justice processes. Examining these cases reveals that structural conditions and dynamics in non-transitional settings profoundly impact victims’ activism, shaping their transitional justice agendas and strategies. It also demonstrates that even in contexts characterized by impunity and limited political change, victim groups persistently advocate for justice, truth, and non-recurrence, linking their struggle to broader goals like democracy and peace and innovating and adapting their strategies to navigate a challenging terrain. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Morocco with activists involved in the Coordination Committee of the Families of the Disappeared and of Victims of Enforced Disappearance in Morocco, and the Saturday Mothers/People in Turkey, this article provides insights into the complexities of transitional justice in diverse contexts, emphasizing the pivotal role of grassroots actors in advancing transitional justice, even under adverse conditions. It emphasizes the need to shift the focus away from the state as the primary subject of analysis and instead center on victims as strategic political agents. Victims’ agency, needs, and aspirations should be prioritized to facilitate fundamental change, including community-driven transitional justice efforts. Classification and Compensation of Victims.

How Conflicts Shape Reparations in Post-War Justice

Dr. Thorsten Bonacker, Professor at University of Marburg, Center for Conflict Studies

Post-conflict societies grapple with the challenging task of addressing gross human rights violations. This paper delves into the factors influencing decisions concerning post-war justice, with a specific focus on administrative reparations programs. Its primary objective is to illuminate the significance of conflict type in shaping government’s reparation policies. A central role, I argue, is played by dynamics of victim group mobilization. Through a comparative analysis of three distinct intrastate conflicts (Guatemala, Timor-Leste, Northern Ireland), the paper shows that the nature of the conflicts, i.e. their subject as well as their termination, strongly influences the decisions on reparation for certain victim groups. To examine the relationship between the nature of the conflict and governments’ compensation decisions, the article applies the perspective of the sociology of classification. The paper thus contributes to the research on victim mobilization as well as to the agency of victims. It sheds light on how victim groups influence reparation policies and how the continuity of negative classifications of certain groups in the post-war context makes compensation for them unlikely.

Connecting Procedural Justice Concerns and Understandings of Victim Participation in Search Processes. Lessons Learnt from Colombia and El Salvador

Dr. Briony Jones, Reader of International Development, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick
Dr. Mina Rauschenbach, Research Associate at KU Leuven and mediator

Enforced disappearance (ED) leaves families of the forcibly disappeared, understood as direct victims of this violation by international law, in a state of ambiguous loss as they search for their loved ones and struggle to satisfy their right to truth and justice. While the international legal issues related to the search for victims of ED have received considerable attention, there has been limited research on the various stages that victims face in the search process, how this involvement in the search impacts their lives and what types of institutional and social responses are needed to guarantee effective and victim-oriented search processes. Building on the UN Guiding Principles for the Search of Disappeared Persons, which ratifies the right to participation, this paper applies the concept of procedural justice to analyse what victim participation means for families searching for their loved ones and to understand how these families navigate their engagement as justice stakeholders. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach and using qualitative interviews undertaken with families and other actors involved in supporting search processes in Colombia and El Salvador, we enhance and expand the scholarship that acknowledges the importance of victim participation and victims as key justice stakeholders. Through the lens of informational and interactional procedural justice concerns, our findings bring important insights on what meaningful participation of victims in the search for disappeared persons could look like. They reveal obstacles, resources, and opportunities, highlighting the complex and often cumbersome constraints around participation, while reinforcing the importance of seeing families as justice stakeholders.