April 29, 2022
Criminal Accountability for Syrians and Beyond
In this new episode of this mini-series on justice efforts for Syrians by Justice Visions and Impunity Watch, we critically examine criminal accountability efforts. Since the start of the al-Khatib trial in April 2020, the first one involving Syrian state torture, criminal proceedings have dominated the justice debate. Patrick Krocker (ECCHR), Anwar al-Bunni (SCLSR), and Veronica Bellintani (SDLP) shed light on the impact of criminal accountability, the central role of victims, and the need to complement criminal proceedings by other efforts.
Syrian lawyer Anwar al-Bunni insists that we cannot overestimate the importance of trials under universal jurisdiction, especially as the conflict is ongoing. “The most important thing is to send a message to the perpetrators that there is no room for impunity in Syria’s future, to prevent such crimes from happening in the future and not give perpetrators a sense of security that allows them to commit crimes, whether in Syria or elsewhere.” In this respect, the transnational cooperation between Syrian lawyers, civil society groups, and international NGOs was key: it demonstrated that while most avenues are closed and realpolitik reigns, justice is not impossible.
As a lawyer on behalf of the victim plaintiffs at the al-Khatib trial, Patrick Krocker witnessed first-hand how this trial created momentum for international justice. While the road ahead is long, he is cautiously optimistic: “there are a lot of prosecutors and investigators that have very deep knowledge of the situation in Syria, that have gathered tons of evidence. I think that the genuine motivation that this evidence is there and should be used is going to stay.”
Closely observing the criminal proceedings and the prominent role of victim groups, Veronica Bellintani notes that criminal accountability should not be seen as a superior form of justice and that victims’ perspectives should be central. “After the al-Khatib trial, there was a lot of conversation about which other perpetrators should we look for: high-level perpetrators, low-level perpetrators? Should we file more complaints? And I think that the conversation should have been more about: how can we make sure that our next justice efforts, our next litigation proceedings are done together with survivors?”
Anwar Al-Bunni is a prominent Syrian human rights lawyer and one of the founders of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research (2004). He was imprisoned and tortured by the Assad regime before moving to Germany in 2014. There, he was part of the legal team that successfully brought Syrian defectors and former officers Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib to trial in Koblenz under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Veronica Bellintani is a human rights researcher and victims’ rights specialist, focusing on the Syrian conflict. She works as Legal Officer at the Syrian Legal Development Programme, focusing on capacity-building and training to Syrian civil society and associations of victims & survivors. She is also serving as Nonresident Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
Patrick Kroker works in the International Crimes and Accountability program where he is responsible for the European Center on Constitutional and Human Rights’ work on Syria. He is a registered lawyer and did a PhD on the subject of victims’ participation in international criminal proceedings. He previously worked as an assistant to Civil Party Lawyers at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and as a research assistant at Universität Hamburg and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Listen to the Arabic interview with Anwar Al-Bunni
Photo on the left: Ⓒ Mohamed Badarne, ECCHR
March 29, 2022
Breaking the Syrian Justice Impasse
In this new mini-series, Justice Visions podcast teams up with Impunity Watch to tell the story of Syrian justice actors’ struggle to unlock the road to justice in four episodes. Through interviews with practitioners, Brigitte Herremans, Habib Nassar and Mohammed Abdullah will debate justice efforts for Syrians in the domain of accountability, documentation, victim’s activism, and truth-seeking.
“This is the moment to highlight how innovative approaches by NGOs and victim groups have changed the scene”, argues Habib Nassar. “The efforts of victims and family associations to advocate for the establishment of a process to search for over 100.000 missing and disappeared in Syria led the UN General Assembly in December 2021 to adopt a resolution requesting the Secretary General to conduct a study on how to address the issue of the missing.”
In this first episode, we bring to bear how justice actors challenged the justice impasse by readjusting and applying elements of the transitional justice toolkit. Our guests, Maria Al Abdeh and Mazen Darwish highlight some key achievements. “Syrian civil society actors have been playing a role on advocacy on keeping the narrative of victims alive, especially when some countries are speaking about normalization”, stresses Maria. “At the political level, I think that Syrians also succeeded in keeping the issue of justice and accountability on the table”, argues Mazen.
A key takeaway is the need to look beyond trials and criminal accountability. “It’s important to think about the limitation of criminal justice processes. We need to widen our thought about how many survivors would be able to participate, what justice means to different people, how we can really make justice something that impacts the everyday life of people, especially marginalised communities in Syria”, highlights Maria. The need to go beyond criminal accountability will be the theme of our next episode.
.استمع إلى المقابلة مع مازن درويش حول جهود العدالة للسوريين
Listen to the Arabic interview with Mazen Darwish on justice efforts for Syrians.
Photo on the left: International Day of the Disappeared Ⓒ Paul Wagner, The Syria Campaign
February 21, 2022
How do we talk about historical commissions as instances of transitional justice?
Historical commissions are not a new phenomenon. The rise and popularity of the historical commission model took place throughout the nineties and early two-thousands – coinciding with the end of the Cold War – when professional historians took a new interest in engaging with the politics of the past. However, they have been increasingly framed as instances of transitional justice; and this is new. This paradigm shift has been particularly noticeable within consolidated democracies, where post-colonial states are increasingly facing pressures to come to terms with the legacies of their violent pasts.
In this episode, Prof. Tine Destrooper speaks with Dr. Cira Palli-Aspero, postdoctoral research fellow with Justice Visions, and Dr. Alexander Karn, from Colgate University, to explore the link between historical commissions and transitional justice, when these operate in consolidated democracies. We take a conceptual approach to first talk about how these commissions operate and what are their normative objectives; and second, to explore what are the implications of framing these historical commissions in consolidated democracies as instances of transitional justice, and especially the implications for the field of transitional justice.
“…what the historical commissions may help the field of transitional justice to understand is that you do not have sort of hard and fast dates that can be used to cleanly bracket injustice. There needs to be a willingness to think about how the conditions of injustice evolved and what legacies the injustice leaves going forward” – Alexander Karn.
Alexander Karn is Associate Professor of History and Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University (NY, USA). He has worked extensively on the politics of history in contemporary societies, on understanding historical dialogue and justice in transitional regimes and established democracies, and on the role of historical commissions in conflict mediation and reconciliation. He is the author of Amending the Past: Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015) and co-editor (with Elazar Barkan) of Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation (Stanford University Press, 2006). Since 2014, he has been a member of the steering committee for the Historical Dialogues, Justice, and Memory Research Network (www.historicaldialogues.org).
Photo on the left: @ubahnverleih on Unsplash
January 31, 2022
How do we talk about youth participation in transitional justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Why should we talk about youth participation in transitional justice? How can we theorize youth contributions to the field of transitional justice? From the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the range of student movements in South America, historically, youth have participated in protests for social and political change challenging impunity; addressing legacies of brutal regimes, and advancing an acknowledgment of dignity and respect for rights—all of which can be perceived as bottom-up contributions to transitional justice. However, despite their contributions to transitional justice, youth remain marginalized in literature and policy debates or are given only a limited and predetermined space to engage.
In this episode, we zoom in on this topic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where there is ongoing momentum for the possibility of developing a national strategy on transitional justice. This impetus draws from the expressed interest of President Felix Tshisekedi in 2020 to deal with the brutal legacies of past and ongoing Congo conflicts. We explore the concept of ‘collective participation,’ which is understood as group mobilization in claimed spaces, and how it can help us understand youth participation in transitional justice in the DRC.
Prof Tine Destrooper speaks with Christian Cirhigiri, Ph.D. researcher with Justice Visions, and Henry-Pacifique Mayala, a member of LUCHA, a youth movement created in 2012 in Goma which espouses the transitional justice discourse to demand State accountability for everyday political and socio-economic violations affecting the masses.
“ … Another important challenge is the political leader’s perceptions of the country’s youth, rather than being considered as partners and collaborators at some points back in the years we were even assimilated to terrorist groups. Several of our comrades were sent to prison for years on zero rational basis.” Henry-Pacifique Mayala.
Photo on the left: LUCHA activists in Goma conducting a collective mourning demonstration in January 2022 are repressed by the Congolese National Police. Ⓒ Lucha RDC
December 16, 2021
How do we talk about participation?
What do we mean when we talk about victim participation? How do we conceptualize the notion of participation in transitional justice so we can study or even evaluate it? In this episode, Justice Visions colleagues Gretel Mejía Bonifazi and Elke Evrard address these theoretical questions and connect them to the struggle of the COCOP community, an Ixil community in the Guatemalan Highlands seeking truth, justice, and redress for a state-led massacre during the armed conflict.
First, we outline why an actor-oriented approach is needed to shed light on the participatory ‘trajectories’ of survivors throughout an ‘ecosystem’ of transitional justice spaces and moments. Then, our interviewees Juan Cobo Brito and Juana Santiago Cedillo share reflections from their own participation trajectory, drawing our attention to the importance of exploring participants’ identities and interests, the different spaces they navigate, the temporalities of participation, and alternative ways of thinking about impact or outcomes.
Juan Cobo Brito
“… what we have is strength, we have made the effort, we are worthy, our lives, have worth and we are going to demand it. […] Because we have to preserve our memories, our stories.”
– Juan is the current Vice-President of the COCOP Victim Committee. He was severely injured during the COCOP massacre and later forced to become part of the Civil Defense Patrols.
Juana Santiago Cedillo
“… that they see our, our conflict, that they see the problems that we face, why did we lose our families? That they recognize it, that is the only thing, the only thing I demand is justice.”
– Juana is a survivor of the COCOP massacre, who after many years of living in Guatemala City, returned to Nebaj to actively seek redress for the crimes committed against her and her family.
To learn more about the community and their struggle, you can read the report “COCOP: Crónicas del genocidio” or listen to the moving song “Los mártires de COCOP” which is part of the Songs of Resistance Compilation.
Photo on the left: Mural in Nebaj, El Quiché © Gretel Mejía Bonifazi
Voice over: Mauro Morales and Ana Paula Oxom
November 17, 2021
How do we talk about time and temporality in the Chilean transition?
In this episode, we reflect on the Chilean transitional justice process and questions related to time and timing. Firstly, we zoom in on the concept of temporality, which refers to the lived experience of time. Secondly, we take a closer look at the implementation and sequencing of the Chilean transitional justice process and the consequences of this temporal organization for victims of human rights violations.
Our two guests, Noemí Baeza and Haydee Oberreuter talk about the return of memories during the social protest movement that erupted in Chile in 2019, the timing of the Chilean truth commissions, and the imposition of a law that was established with the second truth commission (The “Valech Commission” in 2003), imposing effectively 50 years of silence. A law that, according to Haydee Oberreuter, victims’ never asked for and severely limited access to truth and justice.
Highlighting the experiences of Haydee and Noemí, both survivors of political detention and torture, the episode demonstrates unfulfilled promises of the Chilean transition and the daily consequences of overlooking the needs of victims/survivors.
“the imposition of 50 years of silence. 50 years of silence that prevented our testimonies from being known by the courts.”
“And the courts work at the speed of a turtle, that thinks and thinks what it is going to do. It is delaying and thereby facilitating the installation of impunity at a rate that is convenient exclusively to the violators of human rights.”
Haydee Oberreuter is one of the leaders of the Comando Unitario de Ex Prisioneros Políticos y Familiares and spokesperson of the NGO Derechos en Común. She is a survivor of political detention and torture.
Interview with Haydee Oberreuter:
Noemí Baeza worked as a teacher and social worker and is a survivor of political detention and torture. She returned to Chile in 1984 after 10 years of exile in the Netherlands.
Interview with Noemí Baeza:
Voice over: Gretel Mejía Bonifazi
Audio fragment protests: Daniela Zubicueta
October 29, 2021
How do we talk about truth in South Africa?
“There was this tsunami of truths”
In 1995, South Africa installed a Truth and Reconciliation commission to address the legacy of Apartheid. The commission has received a lot of criticism, for its failure to provide reparations, its amnesty policy, and several other reasons. Yet, it has also been an important factor in shaping how we think about past injustice, as well as shaping how we think about truth.
In this episode we talk with Antjie Krog, a South African journalist, writer and poet whose writings often reflect on elements related to truth and redress for victims. Her seminal work of literary non-fiction Country of My Skull addressed the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s hearings.
In her nuanced reflections, she acknowledges the failings of this Commission, and truth commissions more generally, but also states that “I can’t imagine the country without it. Even those who cut themselves off from what is happening there, it has reached them in a way”.
We talk with her about how the work of the truth and reconciliation commission has sometimes been complemented with narrative and literary efforts to engage with the concept of truth and justice, and examine where the two can meet. “I do not think literature can do the work that a truth commission did. Literature can look afterwards, and literature should work before.”
September 24, 2021
How do we talk about justice for Syrians?
When the Syrian uprising started in 2011, justice and accountability were key demands of the protest movement. Civil society activists and international stakeholders embraced the transitional justice paradigm to accompany the hoped-for transition. However, the Assad regime’s policies of annihilation crushed the uprising and led to a civil war, with an increasing number of perpetrators of crimes. While states failed to provide a meaningful response, Syrian and international stakeholders continue to pursue justice in a situation where impunity seems the norm.
In this episode, Brigitte Herremans makes the case for opening the ‘justice imagination’, stretching the boundaries of what is imaginable in terms of justice. She sheds a light on how justice actors try to overcome the justice impasse, notably with regard to the crimes of forcible disappearances and kidnappings. Brigitte also shares insights from an article she co-authored with Tine Destrooper, exploring the concepts of invisibilization and erasure of experiences of Syrian victims. To demonstrate how these crimes are foregrounded concretely, Brigitte spoke to Maryam al-Hallak and Yasmin Fedda.
Maryam is a founding member of the Caesar Families Association, gathering families who identified missing relatives through a collection of photographs known as the Caesar Files. Her son Ayham was forcibly disappeared and killed by the regime, and she never retrieved his body. Yasmin Fedda is a Palestinian-Syrian filmmaker who lectures at Queen Mary University of London. She directed the documentary Ayouni, chronicling the story of media activist Bassel Safadi and Italian priest Paolo, who are respectively disappeared and executed by the regime and kidnapped by ISIS. Maryam and Yasmin share some of the complexities of this quest and highlight the importance of making sure these crimes are not forgotten.
The full interview with Maryam al-Hallak is available below:
July 8, 2021
Spotlight on Germany and Namibia
The German recognition of the genocide in Namibia
In June, Germany officially recognized the genocide against the Herero and Nama people of 1904-1908, acknowledging the responsibility of the German colonial authorities in Namibia and offering a reparation of 1,1 billion euros. Nama and Herero people were deliberately targeted under German colonization, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths (estimates go as far as 80% of the Herero and Nama minorities), confiscation of land and livestock, and inhumane treatment.
In this episode, we talk with Professor Reinhart Kößler and Mrs. Ida Hoffmann to understand what triggered the German recognition of the genocide, how it has been received by various actors concerned, and whether and how these questions are relevant for the expanding field of transitional justice. While the UN officially recognized this genocide already back in 1985, Germany only lately started using this language. As Professor Kößler argues, ‘the German official language really skirted around that word genocide for a very long time when it came to Namibia and the German past as a colonial power in general. They even went to great length to avoid talking about genocide.’
Justice is still a long way ahead, insists Mrs. Hoffmann. ‘This is not justice because all of the sudden, the two governments are talking now today. The majority of the Nama people are not there, the traditional leaders. The Herero traditional leaders are not there. With whom they are talking? There is no way where our government can just together with the German government come in and decide on how much will be paid. Acknowledgment is what we want, the round table with that acknowledgment.’
Ida Hoffman is a longtime defender of the recognition of the genocide in Namibia, an advocate for reparations and committeed to the rights of the descendants of the victims of the Namibian genocide. She was Chairperson of the Nama Genocide Technical Committee (NTLA).
Reinhart Kößler is Professor in Sociology and director of the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute in Freiburg. He is a German sociologist with long research experience concerning Namibia and particularly Namibian-German memory politics.
June 8, 2021
Spotlight on Belgium
Transitional justice’s role in addressing Belgium’s colonial past
Belgium is the first country to establish a parliamentary commission dealing with its overseas colonial past in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. The commission was established in July 2020. This happened after the public outcry about George Floyd’s murder, the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, huge anti-racism protests, and a growing debate about Belgium’s colonial heritage, illustrated by the contestation over statues of King Leopold II, who was responsible for widespread atrocities committed under his rule.
The mission of this “special commission” is to shed a light on all aspects of Belgium’s colonial past. To this end, it appointed ten experts and four civil society representatives to write a report that was supposed to be released months ago, but which has not been made public to date. Civil society organisations have welcomed the commission as an opportunity to confront Belgium’s colonial past and to address contemporary injustices. Yet, many of them are also critical about the process, and particularly about the limited consultation regarding how this process should be designed, the selection of the experts, and the overall lack of transparency.
“Theoretically, it’s ambitious and it’s something that could be replicated in other countries. But at this point it’s empty. So we have to see something concrete.”
While she is cautious about too technical or theoretical an approach, she confirms that the paradigm of transitional justice is potentially an apt one in the Belgian experience:
“A commission like this offers an opportunity that, for example, criminal trials wouldn’t offer in terms of understanding the different lines of responsibility in historical injustices of going beyond individual responsibility in terms of bringing or finding proofs.”
Photo: © CADTM
May 7, 2021
Spotlight on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Prospects for victim participation in the new Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In this episode, we put a spotlight on the Democratic Republic of Congo where a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) was established in 2003, in an attempt to bring an end to hostilities and pave the way to democratization. However, the TRC was short-lived, leaving victims of mass atrocities with fewer avenues for the right to truth. Recently, the government of President Felix Tshisekedi has shown willingness to support the installment of a new TRC and to set up a reparations fund for victims of mass atrocities. Marit de Haan and Christian Cirhigiri speak with Gentil Kasongo, researcher at Impunity Watch in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, who shares what this new momentum for truth-seeking means for the overall field of TJ in the DRC and for the participation of victims of mass atrocities.
Gentil Kasongo is a researcher at Impunity Watch and TJ practitioner from the DRC. He holds a Master’s in Human Rights Law from the University of Cape Town and a law degree from the University of Goma. With seven years of researching human rights in the region, Gentil has worked with civil society actors and victim groups in the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, providing training of trainers on TJ and victim participation.
Christian Cirhigiri is a PhD researcher at the Human Rights Center of Ghent University. His research project focuses on victim participation in the TJ pillar of Guarantees of Non-Recurrence in the DRC.
Photo on the left: © Debout Congolaises
March 31, 2021
Spotlight on Sri Lanka
Accountability and the Human Rights Council
Sri Lanka’s present is haunted by memories of the island’s decades-long civil war, which ended just over a decade ago. The war was mainly a clash between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgent group, the latter of which had hoped to establish a separate state for the Tamil minority. Although the Civil War ended in 2009, the current situation in Sri Lanka has only partially improved. A large portion of the Tamil population remains displaced. While there are fewer political and civil rights issues, instances of torture and enforced disappearances persist even in recent years. The Sri Lankan military still occupies predominantly Tamil areas designated as “high-security zones,” though to a lesser extent than during the war. The entrenched impunity for the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war in late 2008 and 2009 in what the United Nations called a “bloodbath”, remains unaccounted for.
In January this year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a damning report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The report tracks Sri Lanka’s current, deteriorating human rights situation, identifying developments that “risk the recurrence of… the grave violations of the past.” In March, the HRC adopted a new resolution on Sri Lanka, ramping up international monitoring and scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and the new resolution also mandates the UN human rights office to collect, consolidate and preserve evidence for future prosecutions and make recommendations to the international community on steps they can make to deliver on justice and accountability.
In this episode, Tine Destrooper and Sangeetha Yogendran speak with Archana Ravichandradeva, a Canadian lawyer and Senior Advocacy Officer with PEARL, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, a women-led NGO concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. In her role at PEARL, she works to build connections with government officials to advocate for justice and accountability on the island. We discuss accountability and transitional justice efforts in Sri Lanka, and in light of developments before the Human Rights Council.
Sangeetha Yogendran is a PhD Research Fellow with Justice Visions, examining victim participation in transitional justice processes in Cambodia.
Archana Ravichandradeva is a lawyer practicing labour and employment law in Toronto, and is Senior Advocacy Officer for People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL).
Photo on the left: Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil women sit holding placards with portraits of their missing relatives as they protest outside a railway station in Colombo, Sri Lanka. © AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, 2015.
February 19, 2021
Spotlight on France
What the Charlie Hebdo trial could have learned from transitional justice
In 2015 terror attacks against Charlie Hebdo and in a Jewish supermarket paralyzed Paris. All three attackers were killed in standoffs with the police on 9 January 2015. Five years later, during an emotional three-month trial, victims were given a venue to share their testimonies as civil parties. The trial resulted in guilty verdicts against all 14 accused.
In this episode, we examine whether it makes sense to look at these trials through the lens of transitional justice and how doing so allows for lesson learning and for organizing the upcoming Bataclan and Nice trials in a more appropriate way.
Our interviewees in this episode, Kerstin Bree Carlson and Sharon Weill argue that one of the most remarkable things about this trial was that it worked like two processes running in parallel, barely connected, in what they argue was “a platform for the victims, but a weak criminal case”. During the “truth commission” element of the trial, victims recounted the horrors of the attacks. The criminal responsibility element of the trial, on the contrary, seemed to be much less linked to these events, with those on trial being markedly far removed from the facts recounted by the victims. This offers a warning for future terror trials, but also suggests that there may be things to learn from the domain of transitional justice where both criminal justice, truth-telling, and accountability also have to be navigated in complex settings.
How can experiences from the domain of transitional justice help consolidated democracies to better deal with terror attacks and other societal challenges they are facing? And what does it mean for the domain of transitional justice to include these aparadigmatic cases?
Photo on left: © Elya/Wikimedia
January 21, 2021
Spotlight on Guatemala
Dismantling peace and reparations
In July 2020, President Alejandro Giammattei issued a series of decrees closing down several institutions created to comply with the Peace Accords signed by the Guatemalan State in 1996. One of these decrees: a) closes the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ), an institution tasked with managing the National Program of Reparations (PNR) for the victims of the armed conflict, and b) orders the transfer of the PNR to the Ministry of Social Development. Neither victims nor civil society organizations were included in the decision-making process that went behind these decrees. Several legal actions have been filed by victims and civil society to abrogate them.
In this episode, Tine Destrooper and Gretel Mejía talk to Rocío Herrera, a Guatemalan human rights lawyer working at the Human Rights Law Firm, a Guatemalan NGO that provides legal support in one of these actions. She addresses the implications of the decrees on victims’ access to an adequate, effective, and integral reparation, and on the realities of working with victim communities in pandemic times.
Rocío highlights the resilience of Guatemalan people and talks about other intersecting topics, such as the role of strategic litigation to overcome setbacks to transitional justice, and how actors, such as academic centres, can contribute to these interventions. One example are amicus curiae briefs, which explain human rights standards and obligations to the court.
Rocío Herrera is a human rights lawyer at the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm, where she works in transitional justice and strategic litigation.
Gretel Mejía is a PhD Research Fellow with Justice Visions. Her research is focused on victims’ experiences of participation in truth and justice processes in Guatemala.
Photo on left: © Gretel Mejía
December 17, 2020
Spotlight on Chile
From social protest to reforming rights: understanding Chile’s ongoing transition
On the 25th of October 2020, an overwhelming majority of Chilean citizens (78%) voted in favor of redrafting the constitution, following a year of protests. Many believe the constitution of 1980 is withholding Chile from fully leaving behind its past of military dictatorship. Some even call it ‘the constitution of Pinochet’. The referendum was organized in an attempt to meet the demands of protesters that took the streets in October 2019.
When Chile initiated its transition to democracy 30 years ago following 17 years of military dictatorship, the case soon became known as a ‘paradigmatic’ case of transitional justice. It is often cited as a successful transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, because of its classical application of transitional justice mechanisms. However, the slogan ‘It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years’, which was often expressed by protesters reflects how the legacy of the dictatorship continues to affect the present. This context begs the question of whether this transition is actually as ‘finished’ as generally assumed, or rather ongoing.
In this episode, we talk to Loreto López, a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Program for the Social Psychology of Memory of the Universidad de Chile. We talk about what the process of constitutional reform will look like, and what this change of the constitution means within the broader transitional justice framework. Loreto argues that we should not only focus on the victims of human rights violations and start asking questions about the broader Chilean society. The reform of the constitution is just “going to be a start, the beginning”. What else is needed to adopt a broader culture of human rights in the Chilean context, and what could be the role of public memory in that complex process?
Loreto López is a social anthropologist at the Program for the Social Psychology of Memory of the Universidad de Chile. Her expertise is collective memory and Chile’s recent past of military dictatorship.
Marit de Haan is a PhD researcher at Justice Visions. She studies the perceptions and needs of justice of victims of the Chilean military dictatorship, focusing on victim participation and restorative justice
Photo on the left: © Alex Otero DRCL / Shutterstock.com
December 3, 2020
Spotlight on Syria
Justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Syria
Since the start of the uprising in 2011, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been perpetrated by various parties to the Syrian conflict, mainly the Assad regime, rebel groups and the Islamic State. Perpetrators resorted to this kind of violence to instill fear, weaken political opposition, punish and deter civilians and further sectarianism. As the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasizes in its report ‘I lost my dignity’, the suffering induced by these practices impacts Syrians from all backgrounds. Women and girls, however, have been disproportionally affected and victimised, irrespective of perpetrator or geographical area. And justice for survivors of SGBV is an uphill battle.
In this episode, we talk to Mona Zeineddin, of the Syrian NGO Women Now for Development, about the prosecution of SGBV. Mona is part of the campaign ‘A Syrian Road to Justice’ that Women Now For Development launched together with four other feminist organizations, to support the first criminal complaint on SGBV that was filed in Germany. The complaint pertains to sexual and gender-based crimes committed in Syrian government-run detention centres. As their recent report ‘Surviving freedom’ demonstrates, the suffering of victims often continues upon release as they are exposed to discrimination and stigmatization. ‘There’s a lot of hesitance from witnesses or survivors to talk about these sorts of crimes’, elucidates Mona.
The relentless efforts of activists, NGOs, and international bodies have put SGBV higher on the agenda, raising awareness about the obstacles to justice and the need to address the physical, psychological and socio-economic harm that survivors have endured and continue to endure. Mona emphasizes that these joint efforts will eventually lead to transformation. ‘This is a structural issue and it’s not binary in the sense that men are not affected also by the patriarchy, by toxic masculinity, by militarism. It affects both genders, albeit differently, of course.’
Illustration: Sara Khayat
November 11, 2020
Spotlight on Cambodia
What does the death of defendants in high-profile transitional justice cases mean for victims?
On 2 September 2020, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, a former senior figure of the Khmer Rouge convicted of war crimes against humanity in Cambodia, died. He was serving a life sentence after being found guilty of war crimes by the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in 2010. He was in charge of the S-21 Security Centre in Phnom Penh, where at least 12,000 people were tortured and killed, and only a handful survived.
In this episode, we talk to Samphoas Huy, a former Outreach Coordinator with the Victims Unit of the ECCC. She talks about what the passing of Duch means for Cambodia, especially in a situation where there are only a small number of defendants before the ECCC. She also explains what it means for the future of transitional justice in Cambodia if the remaining cases before the ECCC would not go to trial.
Photo: © ECCC.
September 29, 2020
Memory: securing the past and imagining the future
Memory and narratives play a crucial role in transitional justice. What do we remember of past violence, and how do we narrate those memories? In which ways can such narratives, in all their complexity, help us to better understand violence? Literature is one place where we often find narratives of violence, but also in transitional justice narratives are everywhere.
In this podcast episode, we talk to Lyndsey Stonebridge, Professor of Humanities and Human Rights at Birmingham University. In her book ‘The Judicial imagination: writing after Nuremberg’ she touches upon issues such as what it means to tell a story, how we listen, and how to make sure that victims’ voices are adequately captured?
June 30, 2020
Universal jurisdiction: the unthinkable becomes thinkable
How to hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity or war crimes accountable?
Bringing perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide to justice is a complex task, and it tends to be extremely difficult to find courts willing to prosecute perpetrators within the territories where crimes have been committed.
However, when domestic trials or referrals to an international court are not possible, universal jurisdiction offers a way to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes in other states.
Universal jurisdiction has thus made the unthinkable thinkable: allowing for the prosecution of internationally recognized crimes beyond the borders where they took place.
In this episode, we take as a starting point the cases currently taking place in Germany against former officials of the Syrian regime.
We talk to Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Thijs Bouwknegt about the meaning, impact, and challenges of trials taking place under universal jurisdiction.
What can the courts actually do in such complex cases and what is the role of international solidarity in this story? What is the impact of such international efforts on both victims’ expectations and local justice efforts?
Naomi Roht-Arriaza is Professor of Law at The University of California Hastings College of the Law. She is the author of the impactful publication The Pinochet Effect: transitional justice in the age of human rights.
Thijs Bouwknegt is a researcher at NIOD and Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). His expertise is transitional justice, the ICC and universal jurisdiction.
Photo on the left: Feras Fayyad, Wafa Mustafa, and Anwar Al-Bunni outside the courthouse in Koblenz, Germany.
© European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
May 28, 2020
What about social and economic rights?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about human rights violations? Chances are that you are thinking about issues like torture, political detention, disappearance or extrajudicial killings – in other words, violations of civil and political rights. This set of rights continues to enjoy a privileged status in a lot of the human rights scholarship and practice.
Unsurprisingly, violations of these rights have also been the focus of most transitional justice interventions. In the past decade, however, we’ve witnessed more attention for violations of economic, social and cultural rights: when combatants poison a drinking well, burn crops or loot health infrastructure, these are acts that constitute violations of economic, social and cultural rights – and they can be prosecuted.
Moreover, violations of economic, social and cultural rights are often related to violations of civil and political rights, as well as to larger issues of social and economic injustice – but how exactly?
In recent years, a lot of excellent scholarship and practice started to provide answers to this question.
In this episode, we talk to three experts on this topic:
Simon Robins is a humanitarian practitioner and senior research fellow at the University of York working on social-economic justice.
Zinaida Miller is Assistant Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University
Together with them, we explore what room there is within the existing legal framework of transitional justice, as well as beyond it, to pay more attention to social and economic rights and needs. How can and should transitional justice engage with these issues? What are the pitfalls? And what if victims were the ones to shape the transitional justice agenda: would they prioritize truth and justice, or rather their social and economic needs? And is there really such a strong dichotomy?
April 30, 2020
When talking about victim participation in transitional justice processes, we need to better understand the notions of victim, victimhood, and victimization, as well as the related phenomena of retraumatization and tertiary victimization. In this episode, we talk to scholars, practitioners, and artists to arrive at a more responsive and empowering understanding.
April 1, 2020
The evolution of the field (with Laurel Fletcher)
From the previous episode, it became clear how strongly the field of transitional justice is interwoven with that of international criminal justice. What does that mean for the evolution of the field of transitional justice and where it is going, especially with regard to the role played by victims in this process? In this episode we talk to Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley Law, to better understand where we come from and where we are headed, and what the most important evolutions are to expect in the next decade.
February 28, 2020
Legal Opportunities and Challenges (with Stephan Parmentier and Rudina Jasini)
Victim participation is receiving increasing attention in transitional justice. In the pilot episode, it became clear that there is potentially tremendous value in victim participation, but that there are also many pitfalls. Before we dive into the murkiest questions facing us in practice, we take a step back and ask two of the legal experts affiliated to Justice Visions, Stephan Parmentier and Rudina Jasini, what is even possible – legally speaking – in terms of victim participation: what formal restrictions are there, and how do these affect the avenues and modalities of victim participation and the justice process itself. We also reflect with them on some of the experiences of practitioners, like Sangeetha Yogendran, in this regard.
December 11, 2019
Introduction to Justice Visions
Welcome to the pilot episode of Justice Visions Talks, your go-to for everything that is new and innovative in the domain of transitional justice. In this short introductory episode, we want to briefly tell you more about what you can expect from us, how this podcast came about and why you should listen to it.