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Panel: Victim-Driven Justice: ‘Participation’ as Labour, Agency and Resistance

Victim-driven Resistance. A New Framework

Dr. Valeria Vegh Weis, LLM, University of Konstanz

To date, states and international organizations have been regarded as the reliable entities for addressing atrocities. However, these agencies are often perpetrators (or bystanders) that even deny their crimes. The contribution examines whether challenging atrocities becomes more feasible if organizations led by the victim-survivors themselves take a leading role, with, within or against state-based or international entities. This will be done based on a southern approach consisting of focusing on a case from the Global South (Argentina), which is considered a global reference in democratization processes, as a source of knowledge and with attention to the local epistemologies and the voices of the protagonists of the process under exploration. This contribution will seek to go beyond the state of the art (based on victim participation in state-driven processes as the highest level of conceived involvement in the transition) by assessing whether and how a victim-driven model, where victims’ networks play a leading role, can be a more solid explanatory basis for the successful transition to democracy and peace.

#Workingforjustice: Victim Participation as Labour

Dr. Leila Ullrich, Associate Professor of Criminology, University of Oxford

What do victims actually do when they participate in transitional justice mechanisms? Express their views, contribute to the justice process, tell their stories or confront their trauma? These are common answers transitional justice scholars give. Yet, observing the International Criminal Court’s victim engagement in Kenya and Uganda, I was more struck by how exhausting justice was for its participants; how much it looked like work, hard work, in fact, both for the Court’s staff and for intermediaries and victims. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in The Hague, Kenya and Uganda, including 134 interviews, this paper explores what happens if we conceptualize victim participation not as a democratic or legal form but as a labour form. Such a reconceptualization raises new questions: if victims work for international criminal justice, how is their labour valued and what is its product? Drawing on my forthcoming book, The Blame Cascade: Justice for Victims at the International Criminal Court (OUP, 2024), the paper shows how the drive to include victims as participants in international criminal justice also creates and disciplines them as highly gendered and racialized capitalist subjects who are supposed to ‘stop crying’, ‘be peaceful’, ‘get married’, ‘work hard’, ‘repay debt’ and accept their place at the bottom of the global division of labour.

Shifting Directional Translation of Transitional Justice Rhetoric: The Role of Civil Society in Facilitating Advocacy and Mobilisation of Grassroots Transitional Justice Practices in Liberia

Kelsey Rhude, PhD researcher, Irish Centre for Human Rights

Despite growing efforts to challenge its top-down and state-centric implementational nature, issues of access and ownership remain ubiquitous in transitional justice praxis. Not only are the mechanisms of transitional justice frequently physically inaccessible, its language and rhetoric are often deeply unfamiliar and unrecognisable to many survivors/victims. Drawing on a five-month period of field research conducted in Liberia, this paper highlights the efforts of civil society organisations to overcome accessibility-related obstacles by facilitating development of everyday, community-driven transitional justice practices. The paper focuses on a specific case-study initiative, currently in the pilot stages of implementation, which aims to translate the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations for reparations and memorialisation into accessible language. The project develops through distribution of an easy-to-read reparations handbook, radio programming, and community workshops. While the Liberian TRC report contains transformative potential, controversy surrounding its recommendations for accountability, and overall lack of widespread distribution of the report has overshadowed and stalled comprehensive implementation efforts. To address these shortcomings, civil society organisations are using advocacy as a tool to prompt implementation of the TRC’s recommendations through mobilisation of grassroots actors. Conversely, this case study also demonstrates that the mobilisation of transitional justice rhetoric involves translation of complex mechanisms from the top-down. Therefore, this paper draws on empirical research conducted as part of a wider PhD study to demonstrate the need to reconceptualise the directional nature of transitional justice praxis, and necessity to build an alternative structure and language of transitional justice.

Empowering Agency: Crafting Participatory Methodologies for People-Centered Justice

Rebeca Huete Salazar, Lawyer, Associate at Guernica 37 Centre
Juliana Galindo Villarreal, Associate at Guernica 37 Centre

After a 50-year-long war, in 2016, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP guerrillas signed a Peace Agreement, inaugurating a new transitional period. This new scenario raised questions on how to better engage communities who had experienced the violence, particularly since the new mechanisms were aiming to adopt ethnic and territorial approaches as guiding principles.

The paper’s central argument is that victim’s effective participation largely depend on the design and implementation of a participatory methodology that integrates their epistemologies and views of what is just, strengthening their sense of agency and promoting civic trust (understood from three levels: self-confidence to demand their rights, trust in their community, and trust in institutions). I will draw on Guernica 37 Centre’s methodology and experience in Colombia, a nonprofit organization that has been working closely with ethnic and peasant communities since 2017 by supporting their quest for accountability before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

As part of this work, the team jointly designed the participation route with these communities, which began by investigating and documenting the atrocities committed in their territories: a process that embraced diverse perspectives and research methods, gaining a more nuanced understanding of complex offences and the differential impacts of the violence. As an illustration, the afrodescendant communities in northern Cauca requested the Cauca River to be recognized as a victim of the armed conflict: shedding light on the harm
inflicted upon the river contributed to helping the magistrates comprehend how armed groups had utilized nature during the war.

Conceptualizing Mnemonic Resistance to Autocratization

Simone Benazzo, PhD student (Université Libre de Bruxelles – ULB)

Authors interested in illiberal memory politics have extensively dissected autocrats’ weaponization of collective memory. Nostalgia is believed to undermine democratization and foster populism, while several political actors that foster autocratization have been inclined to resort to memory politics to consolidate consensus. However, top-down tenacious resistance against state-sponsored memory policies has been observed. The few authors that have led the conceptual reflection upon these forms of grassroots campaigns revolving around memory, however, have not differentiated between liberal democracies, where “memory wars” can play out place overtly in public opinion, and autocratizing regimes, where spaces for expression are way more limited. This represents a structural gap, since it has been recognized that political elites in these countries have a distinct approach to the repression of alternative memories, which also shapes forms of grassroot resistance. Aiming to advance theoretical reflection on this yet understudied phenomenon, the present paper introduces the concept of ‘mnemonic resistance to autocratization’ (MRA), and illustrates three practices that civil society actors have implemented to perform MRA: direct linkage, namely drawing a clear-cut parallelism between authoritarian practices in the past and in the present; inclusionary disruption, i.e. actions that aim to unravel the homogenizing and exclusionary collective memory sponsored by political elites; and alternative dissonance, which is designed to present inspirational cases of resilience and resistance to foster emulation among citizens. While the three practices can coexist in the same initiative, they pursue different strategies in their attempt to mobilize memory to resist autocratization.