On March 2-3, 2020, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) is holding a conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on the fight against corruption and the recovery of ill-gotten assets as a critical element of transitional justice processes. The conference will bring together activists, policymakers, and experts from Tunisia and other countries in the global South emerging from conflict or authoritarian rule, including The Gambia, Kenya, the Philippines, and South Africa, where transitional justice processes have been established to investigate and deliver justice for large-scale corruption crimes, in addition to human rights violations. In doing so, ICTJ aims to strengthen the capacity of diverse stakeholders by exchanging lessons learned, best practices, and expert advice.
With a few notable exceptions, early transitional justice processes privileged physical integrity and civil and political rights violations when examining the legacies of armed conflict or repressive governments. For example, in countries such as Argentina and Chile, truth commissions and other transitional justice institutions focused mainly if not only on torture, killing, enforced disappearances, and prolonged detention. “These first modern transitional justice processes, though groundbreaking in their own ways, left unexamined the rampant and massive corruption committed by dictators or crooked political leaders, their trusted officials, family members, and business cronies,” says Ruben Carranza, ICTJ’s senior expert on corruption and reparations. “That phenomenon resulted in coopted state institutions and fueled widespread human rights abuses.”
More recently, transitional justice advocates and policymakers, many from the global South, have come to understand the value of pursuing accountability for large-scale corruption in tandem with gross human rights violations. For example, countries such as the Philippines and in the past couple years The Gambia created separate commissions to investigate human rights violations and corruption. In others including Chad, Kenya, and Tunisia, truth commissions were mandated to address human rights violations together with systemic and widespread corruption. After the 2018 revolution in Armenia that ended a decade of authoritarian rule, the new government has embarked on prosecutions for corruption and human rights violations and is considering creating a truth commission to bring to light the extent of and impunity for these past abuses.
Given this evolution in the transitional justice field and the importance of building inclusive, transparent, and accountable institutions to prevent a recurrence of violations, it is timely to take stock of lessons learned from these varied country contexts about pursuing justice for large-scale corruption. To this end, ICTJ’s two-day conference will explore the challenges to and possibilities for holding to account perpetrators and recovering ill-gotten assets. “Hopefully, the knowledge and experience that we distill and document in this conference can help practitioners who want to see justice for endemic corruption and assets recovered put to good use, such as for reparations,” explains Agatha Ndonga, ICTJ’s head of office for Kenya, who will lead a panel discussion on March 2.
PHOTO: ICTJ and Partnership for Open Society organize a public discussion in Armenia on corruption, state capture, and transitional justice on October 28, 2019. (ICTJ)