Reparations and Gender Justice: Is Egypt Ready for Transitional Justice?

Magdy Andel Hameed devoted the introduction to drawing attention to the ongoing human rights abuses taking place against activists by the military authorities in Egypt.

He posed several questions to the panelists which sought to define the crimes of the past, the time periods that reparations can be applied to, and transitional justice measures to deal with crimes committed against women.

What action are we to take in Egypt? asked Hameed. Is Egypt prepared to deal with transitional justice or have we not yet reached the point of transition? This may make it important for us to exert great efforts to explain the importance of transitional justice, to attract activists to this field as one of the most important processes in transition.

Ruben Carranza, ICTJ’s director of Reparations Program, explained that reparations are the right of survivors and that they can take material or symbolic form. He presented the UN Basic Principles on Reparations which prescribe that reparations must be adequate, effective and prompt.

“Victims must have adequate access to the information about the reparations they are entitled to. The state is obliged to provide reparations where violations are imputable to the state and where the parties are not held accountable,” emphasized Carranza.

Carranza explained that courts have a role to play, as they can order compensation to victims but there are limitations including the cost of litigation, the capacity of judiciary and the magnitude of violations. This made some countries to establish administrative agencies to conduct reparations programs so that they are flexible, but fair.

Kelli Muddell, director of ICTJ’s Gender Program, detailed the ways women are specifically targeted in conflict and repression and the reasons why these crimes often stay unknown. A particular aspect of violence against women are its long-term consequences, that include physical harm done by sexual violence, community exclusion and psychological harm.

She analyzed the difficulties in dealing with the consequences of gender violence, including limited access to resources in comparison to men, as well as social stigma surrounding sexual violence.

In examining what transitional justice can do to address gender violence, Muddell posited that criminal justice forms a significant form of justice as it send a clear signal to communities that sexual violence will not be tolerated. However, this is only one element, she stressed. Truth commissions and reparations can counter denial by listening the stories of victims of sexual violence, examine patterns of violations and recommend institutional reforms to empower women in post-transition to ensure they are not as vulnerable.

She concluded by emphasizing that Egypt has a unique opportunity to involve women in justice processes and address crimes against women, with community having the responsibility to make this possible.

Jasmin Sooka, former commissioner of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, addressed questions facing Egypt on how to ensure accountability, how to end impunity, and how to ensure the transition addresses the roots of conflict and abuses are common to other societies.

She detailed the experience of South Africa and the efforts made by women to form coalitions that ensured participation in the political process, which ultimately led to constitutional changes enshrining women’s rights.

“If transition does not address violence against women, the violence against them increases and reinforces their marginalization,” Sooka stated. “When you hear ‘Liberation first, equality after!’ you can rest assured that equality will never come.”

Sooka called on participants not to lose the sight of the systemic nature of abuses, and who benefited from them, in order to properly address them through transformative justice mechanisms.

Mozn Hassan, director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, asserted that attempts to satisfy victims’ demands through reparations often disregard their struggle for the change of regime, which, according to Hassan, is also a form of compensation. She proposed that special transitional systems, such as special tribunals, can better deal with the legacy of systemic violence. In conclusion, Hassan warned against linking gender violence exclusively to women, as this narrows the scope of discussion and gives a misleading picture that negatively affects the debate.

In the ensuing discussion participants addressed issues including the refusal of some Western governments to acknowledge cases of abuse and award proper compensation; the need for an apology from the governments in the region for past abuses and the situation in Yemen.