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.”