Assessing victims’ experiences of participation in transitional justice: a case study of truth-telling and criminal prosecutions in Guatemala

In Guatemala, victim participation in transitional justice has developed in various forms at official and grassroots levels. On the one hand, truth-telling projects have provided spaces for victims to give testimony and propose recommendations. On the other hand, in criminal prosecutions, victims have taken a more active role as civil parties, which allows them to act as investigators and communicate with prosecutors. In both of these mechanisms, human rights organizations and other stakeholders have intervened to either mobilize victims to participate, or to support them throughout the process. In spite of scholarship providing an analytical lens on the nature, scope and impact of these pillars, a critical and empirical understanding of the different forms of participation in truth-telling and criminal prosecutions and its implications in their perceptions of justice and mobilization to claim human rights are currently lacking.

Therefore, the project aims at building on the current scholarship by conducting an in-depth study on victims’ experiences of participation in light of 1) the shifts in their perceptions of justice and human rights due to their exposure to narratives by involved local and international organizations, 2) the meaning victims give to their participation at the individual and collective level, and 3) whether participation fulfills their expectations of accountability and reparations. This will be achieved by implementing a state-of-the-art methodology through fieldwork with victims who first provided testimony in truth-telling initiatives and then got involved in criminal prosecutions either as civil parties or as witnesses. The findings of the project have the potential to shed light on how victims understand and experience these processes and suggest better approaches to create meaningful interventions in practice.