Justice and Development: Nexus at the Heart of Arab Spring


This year’s Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice, coordinated by ICTJ and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the NYU School of Law, focused on the intersection between transitional justice and international development.

Featuring panelists Mr. Hossam Bahgat and Ms. Helen Clark, both experts in fields of human rights and international development, the lecture aimed to uncover the intrinsic links between transitional justice and development, as well as frame the discussion in context of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa undergoing transitions from authoritarian rule. The event featured lectures by Ms. Clark and Mr. Bahgat, followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dr. Phillip Alston.

Introduction by David Tolbert

ICTJ president David Tolbert's opening remarks addressed the importance of linking the seemingly disparate fields of transitional justice and development. The World Bank’s recent World Development Report was a landmark achievement in linking the promotion of justice, truth, and accountability to peacebuilding and development in war-ravaged states. To build upon the findings on this report, Tolbert recommended a paradigm shift in which policies and procedures simultaneously target justice and development. Speaking specifically about the Middle East and North Africa region, Tolbert emphasized the concurrent demands by protestors to ensure accountability and provide citizens with social and economic justice.

Helen Clark

Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and former prime minister of New Zealand, spoke about how transitional justice and development actors can design policies and solutions to complement each other’s work. While traditional indicators of development have been numerical, the idea of development now considers the extent to which society allows freedom, civil liberties, and political choice. Transitional justice mechanisms, which strive to establish justice and accountability, can easily fit into this paradigm of “human development."

Ms. Clark also spoke about how international institutions can incorporate transitional justice into broader development goals. Initiatives such as land restitution and anti-corruption reform, imperative to the development agenda, can be bolstered by transitional justice efforts which target the roots of these problems and help to understand why they occurred. Similarly, the development community should link access to justice for conflict-related crimes with the effort to drive security and justice sector reform. This can prevent institutions from fragmenting and fostering conflict.

Hossam Bahgat

Hossam Bahgat, a prominent activist in the Egyptian revolution, provided a contextualization of the links between transitional justice and development in light of the transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt is a fascinating example of the importance of this debate, as the protestors in the revolution demanded economic and social justice alongside civil and political liberties with their resounding cry for “bread, freedom, and human dignity." The loss of human dignity, whether for human rights violations or socio-economic exploitation, is a universal grievance that must be addressed.

To truly reform, justice and accountability for crimes committed must be restored to promote democratization as well as economic growth, he emphasized. However, the current military government has perpetrated abuses and curtailed liberties which strikingly resemble the atrocities perpetrated under Mubarak. Bahgat advised international institutions to offer aid and assistance on a conditional basis only, avoiding direct dialogue with the military government unless they agree to implement transitional justice measures. He suggested that the slogan “Nunca Mas” (Never again) apply to the social and economic injustices as well as physical human rights abuses perpetrated by the Mubarak regime. Evoking a similar moral outrage for economic oppression as well as human rights abuse, Bahgat claimed, will help prevent the same discrimination from recurring.

Discussion and Questions

Moderator Phillip Alston further probed the implications of linking transitional justice and development. The idea of “sequencing," which puts the development agenda first and justice second, is now considered to be an outdated way of thinking. Topics covered in the questions included the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in development and the implications of possible victory of Islamic parties in the upcoming election on future transitional justice procedures.

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