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Institutional innovation and victim participation in transitional justice

The new season of the Justice Visions podcast focuses on the issue of victim participation, mobilization and resistance. This dedicated focus aligns with the overarching theme of the Justice Visions conference, taking place in March 2024. Our first episode centers on institutional innovation and its symbiotic relationship with victim participation. This is a dynamic interplay where, on one hand, formal transitional justice mechanisms shape various transitional justice processes with significant implications for victims. On the other, formal mechanisms increasingly engage with victim participation, which is seen as an essential requirement for achieving the goals of transitional justice.

We talk about this interplay between formal and informal avenues and the topic of institutional change with Dr. Brianne McGonigle Leyh, who is affiliated with the Netherlands Institute of Human and Utrecht’s University’s School of Law. Brianne has been working extensively on international criminal law, transitional justice and victims’ rights. Recently, her work zooms in on aparadigmatic cases, examining transitional justice initiatives in the United States. In Brianne’s words, “there are new ways of using the language of transitional justice, using the language of human rights to advance a cause that meets the needs and concerns of community actors and community members. So, when we see even traditional processes being used to advance justice for historical harms, I think that’s brilliant.”

Reflecting on her extensive research journey, Brianne  talks about the evolution of participatory rights across the pillars of transitional justice. She emphasizes: “I definitely think we’ve seen major changes in the past 20, 15, even 10 and 5 years. Participation has become so integral, not just in transitional justice. Actually, even in the broader field of human rights law, participation has become absolutely integral. There’s an expression, I believe it was first used in disability rights: “Nothing about us without us”. And we’ve seen that phrase really spread to so many different groups and communities that have long fought for these participatory rights.” This “participatory turn” has left an indelible mark on institutional structures and processes established during times of transition.

Dr. Brianne McGonigle Leyh is an Associate Professor with the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights and Montaigne Centre on Rule of Law and Administration of Justice at Utrecht University’s School of Law. Her specializations include human rights law, international criminal law, transitional justice, victims’ rights, and documentation and accountability for serious human rights violations.

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