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?