The Case for Justice

7/16/2012

Why pursue transitional justice in the aftermath of massive human rights violations? “The Case for Justice” provides a window into the debate about the relevance of transitional justice in today’s world.

The complexity of this debate is best illustrated by the different myths that abound within it. Some contend transitional justice is “soft justice,” an alternative to pursuing criminal justice in the wake of mass atrocities or repression; others equate it solely with criminal trials, fully focused on perpetrators. Some view it as a key obstacle to reaching successful peace agreements; others regard it as a kind of a magic wand, a quick cure for the scars of war and abuse.

In fact, the field of transitional justice recognizes that without accountability for massive human rights abuses, societies have little hope of avoiding the recurrence of conflict or building sustainable peace. This is well captured by Eduardo Gonzalez, director of ICTJ’s Truth and Memory Program:

“The promise of transitional justice is that peace is going to be more than the cessation of hostilities, that the causes of war are going to be squarely faced and squarely dealt with. Transitional measures hold a promise of authentic sustainable democracy and sustainable peace.”

From Egypt to Uganda, from Colombia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the places that frequently occupy our attention with references to decades of repression, millions of victims, deep scars of long running conflicts and all-pervasive injustice, transitional justice holds value. And although we must remain fully aware that justice is only one of many elements of response required in these societies, we also must not forget its crucial importance.

“People should never be placed in a situation in which they are supplicants, in which they have to beg for their rights. This is one of the fundamental reasons why we worry about the implementation of transitional justice measures in the wake of massive human rights abuses,” says Pablo de Greiff, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

This film describes the moment we live in, the moment in which calls for rights and justice are coming from all corners of the world. And nothing captures this moment, and the place of transitional justice within it, like the words of Hossam Baghat, one of the leaders of the revolution in Egypt that saw the end of the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak:

“The only way out of this moment of arrest that we find our revolution in is going to be a serious effort to seek the truth about what happened in the last 30 years under Mubarak, hold the perpetrators of violations accountable, and then embark on a process of rebuilding every institution that was destroyed by the dictator.

"Without this full and comprehensive process of justice and restoring dignity to the people, we are going to continue to live under the same practices and policies as we did under Mubarak and in that case a second revolution is just a must.”

As much as this pertains to Egypt, it also holds true for Tunisia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kenya, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Cambodia, and many other societies facing legacies of human rights abuse and suffering. We strongly believe this. And that is what inspired “The Case for Justice.”


Why transitional justice?

    Transitional justice is, at its core, a way of addressing the past to ensure a better future. Stable, enduring peace can only be achieved by addressing the demands for justice in societies that have been affected by mass atrocity; victims must be recognized, both in what they experienced and as equal citizens, bearers of rights.

Colombia: Decades of conflict

    Today in Colombia there is no difference between society and the victims; stories of displacement, assassinations, abductions—all possible forms of victimization—can be found in a single family. While there have been important accomplishments in efforts to build sustainable peace, there is still a long way to go.

DRC: A guilty silence

    The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which continues today, has become known as the Third World War; the death toll is estimated to be more than four million. Massive human rights abuses have become commonplace, yet still receive little attention from the world.

Egypt: Hope for a better future

    On January 25, 2011, the Egyptian people responded to a call to and express anger against the dictatorship of Mubarak, a system where torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, censorship and surveillance were policy. But the protests also expressed hope for a better future, in a call for "bread, freedom, human dignity."

Uganda: A failure to protect

    The Lord's Resistance Army, headed by Joseph Kony, for years meted out heinous attacks against the communities of Northern Uganda. But the government's counter-insurgency efforts also led to human rights atrocities, and victims still await justice and stability.

Justice is not a magic wand

    One of the greatest challenges the field of transitional justice faces today is an explosion of expectations about what it can achieve. There is no such thing as a universal policy tool that can redress all problems; there are no easy answers. Transitional justice must be considered a component of a complex and integrated solution.