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Assessing participation in transitional justice: a case study on Maya Ixil trajectories for redress in the aftermath of the internal armed conflict in Guatemala

Despite the expansion of victim-centred approaches in transitional justice, the current literature has mostly focused on analysing the implications of victim participation in institutional or formal mechanisms, such as criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, and administrative reparations programs. This approach has overlooked important venues, for instance grassroots and popular mobilization spaces, where meaningful forms of participation unfold. In Guatemala, victims and civil society have mobilised within grassroots and popular spaces in multiple ways, through the initiation of local memory, truth and justice projects, protests, advocacy and resistance. Among these actions, it is worth highlighting the formation of victim groups, with the aim of articulating efforts with other local, national and international organisations to mobilise resources and achieve a response to their justice claims.

Based on this gap in the transitional justice literature, the research project proposes to explore victims’ broad trajectories of participation. This approach intends to explore how victims traverse formal and informal spaces, with a particular focus on the forms of collective action, identities, tensions and demands that victims foreground in their mobilization for justice. This research project is rooted in social movement theories to identify and provide an in-depth understanding of how victims participate in diverse formal and informal spaces. In this project, mobilization is conceptualized as a form of participation in transitional justice. This conceptualization allows expanding the notion of participation to analyse broader trajectories through the identification of victims’ main demands, forms of collective action, and relations with other relevant stakeholders. This approach can contribute to exploring how victims frame their demands and identify themselves in their participatory trajectories, and how they interact with global discourses of truth, justice and human rights in local contexts.

The guiding question of the project is: How has participation in various formal and informal spaces affected victims’ broader trajectories of mobilization in transitional justice? To answer this question, the research project combines an extensive literature review on the topic of victim participation in transitional justice and a qualitative socio-legal case study that explores victims’ experiences of mobilization for justice in a particular Maya Ixil community that was a victim of a State-led massacre during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala (1960-1996).

The findings of the research project have the potential of shedding light on how participation unfolds in different settings and identifying the forms of collective action victims undertake in their broader trajectories of mobilization. The qualitative nature of the project will allow exploring how victims experience and position themselves in their trajectories vis à vis other relevant stakeholders, and how they interact with global discourses. The project aims to contribute to the scholarly debates on the relationship between social movements and civil society and to add to the literature on empirical and localized approaches in transitional justice.