ICTJ Forum Series on Truth Commissions and Peace Mediation: Betty Murungi



A former commissioner of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Betty Murungi has over 23 years of experience in the practice of law at the national, regional, and international levels, as well as extensive human rights experience in the context of violent conflict and international criminal justice accountability mechanisms.

In this interview with ICTJ’s Hannah Dunphy, Ms. Murungi shares insight on Kenya’s own process of truth-seeking, the role of women in Sierra Leone’s truth commission, and the critical importance of innovating new approaches to determining the needs of women after conflict.

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Murungi first reflects on the impact of the TJRC of Kenya, noting its failures to deliver on all aspects of its broad and ambitious mandate.

“There are some really good parts of the mandate that were covered very well and reported on very well, with excellent recommendations,” she says. “But then there are others that are poor.”

Part of Murungi’s extensive advocacy for the rights of women and girls transpired in Sierra Leone, which was undergoing its own series of justice measures—including truth-seeking—after a conflict had raged for over a decade, and where levels of violence against women were staggering.

“The women of Sierra Leone wanted to tell their stories, and they wanted to be heard; and in fact, they were heard,” Murungi explains. “There were a whole lot of women in Sierra Leone who testified in public, so that the rest of the population could hear what had happened to them.”

When asked to reflect on broad lessons to be learned from other truth commissions, Murungi says it is not enough to only address crimes or violations against women in conflict: women must be included in the design of justice measures—such as reparations programs— meant to address harm suffered.

“Women, men, and children experience conflict differently. And therefore their needs, their justice needs, post-conflict, are different,” says Murungi.

“When you speak to women in post-conflict settings or in conflict settings, about, for example, restitution, they do not want to be restituted to the positions they were in, prior to the conflict. When you look at reparations from a gender perspective, you want to look at what are the [root] causes, the structural causes of violence in communities.”

Learn more about women's participation in transitional justice in our recent Gender Justice Program Report, or listen to the stories of survivors of Sierra Leone's conflict in ICTJ's multimedia project, Seeds of Justice.

PHOTO: Betty Murungi, pictured at the High-Level Symposium "Challenging the Conventional: Can truth Commission Effectively Strengthen Peace Processes?" held in New York, November 2013. (ICTJ)