The Justice Visions podcast is hosted at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. Every month we talk to experts and practitioners about cutting-edge research and practice regarding victim participation in transitional justice.

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Brigitte Herremans & Tine Destrooper of the Justice Visions Podcast
International Day of the Disappeared - Syria Campaign

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.

Dr. Maria Al Abdeh is a renowned feminist activist and the Executive Director of Women Now for Development, a leading Syrian women’s rights organization that has championed a gender-transformative approach to human rights and justice matters.

Mazen Darwish is the General Director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression. He is a human rights lawyer who played a key role in criminal litigation cases brought before European courts. Mazen was arbitrarily detained in Syria as a result of his human rights activism.

.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

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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 

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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

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Ⓒ Gretel Mejía Bonifazi

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
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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.

Haydee Oberreuter 

 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:

Transcript Spanish interview Haydee Oberreuter 

Noemí Baeza

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:

Transcript Spanish interview Noemí Baeza

Voice over: Gretel Mejía Bonifazi
Audio fragment protests: Daniela Zubicueta

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