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Researching Survivors’ Participation in Colombia

The new season of the Justice Visions podcast focuses on issues surrounding victim participation, mobilization and resistance. It focuses on debates that will also be addressed during the upcoming Justice Visions conference, taking place 13-15 March 2024, in Ghent (Belgium) and online. In this episode, we talk about the methodological challenges of doing research on victims’ lived experiences of participation in and resistance against formal transitional justice processes.

Our studio guest is assistant professor Sanne Weber. Her research focuses on gender-just reparations in rural communities in Colombia’s Caribbean region, where survivors were engaged in the process of land restitution and collective reparations. In the episode we focus on participation in formal avenues, because, as Sanne argues, these continue to be of paramount importance for victims: “What is really important about the more formal processes is the recognition by the state, because eventually it’s the state’s responsibility to redress the harm and transform the situation. Even though informal or non-formal spaces are very important and can have very important goal of rebuilding social fabric and recreating trust.”

Yet, while her initial plan was to employ participatory research methods, she soon found that her potential research participants had limited interest in this approach, due to a “participation fatigue” which can be traced back to how the formal transitional justice process was organized. Colombia Victims’ law is often hailed for promoting innovative forms of victim participation, yet significant challenges have characterized its implementation. As Sanne argues, “Participation in this process had required a great investment of time and effort, but they weren’t seeing the results of their participation.”

This raises important questions for researchers in terms of how to navigate this scepticism regarding participatory methods, the power dynamics surrounding it, and the concrete strategies for foregrounding the voices of people who experienced violence. As Sanne underscores in the podcast, this is a trial and error process: “It is really a way of trying to overcome obstacles by sharing the power between participants and researchers. This has a long history in Latin America – this approach of combining research with activism and valuing grassroots knowledge.”

This episode on research methods lays the foundation for a next episode which focuses on the actual experience of survivors who participated in formal processes.

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