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Re-imagining victimhood and victim participation in transitional justice

In this special episode of the Justice Visions podcast we go back to the core of the Justice Visions research project and explore important evolutions in how we think about the complex notions of victimhood and victim participation within the field of transitional justice.

Together with Cheryl Lawther and Tine Destrooper, we talk how the recent expansion of transitional justice, the diverse range of contexts in which it is implemented, and the growing attention to diverse knowledge approaches, shaped our understanding of these complex concepts in different contexts.

The notion of victimhood itself is central to Cheryl’s forthcoming book ‘Beyond Innocence and Guilt: Constructing Victimhood in Transitional Justice’. In this episode, she argues that when we’re thinking about victimhood in transitional justice we need to engage with a much bigger range of thematic issues:

How is victimhood constructed in relation to, for example, what voices do we hear, and what voices do we not hear? What happens when we perhaps freeze victims and survivors in one particular narrative and treat that one experience in their life as their total identity, their total voice? (…) and what about what about the forms of victimhood that we don’t see, or we don’t hear?

This position also has implication for how we think about victim participation in formal and informal spaces of transitional justice, which is the focus of Tine Destrooper’s work. As she explains in this episode, victim participation in transitional justice can be both a locus and a driver of transformative change, if it is developed in ways that are meaningful for those who experienced harm:

Meaningful participation foregrounds lived experiences and can be a way to facilitate reflexive understandings of rights that underpin various agendas for justice or redress.

How to organize participation in a meaningful way, however, requires a better understanding of how people who experienced violence navigate and negotiate or reshape or reject participation in transitional justice, how formal spaces shape informal spaces and vice versa, etc. As Tine argues in the podcast, ‘There are a lot of relational dynamics related to participation that we need to understand better’.

These questions will also be discussed in more detail during the international ERC conference Victims and Transitional Justice: Participation. Mobilisation. Resistance, organised by Justice Visions in Ghent in March 2024.

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