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