Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice
Scholars have long attempted to understand, theorize and interrogate the ways in which societies emerging from violent conflict – whether from armed hostilities or prolonged periods of unrest – come to terms with their past. These studies have focused on issues of reconciliation, memory, governance, justice and transition and have given rise to the particular discipline of Transitional Justice.
Transitional Justice [TJ] refers to the processes, methods and practices used by societies seeking to overcome legacies of mass human rights violations or authoritarian governance. These processes may be judicial or non-judicial: ranging from truth-commissions, prosecutions, reparations, vetting, guarantees of non-recurrence and institutional reform.
Recent decades have seen the wide diffusion of the practice of TJ through the work and influence of a loose network of lawyers, politicians, activists and victims. The emergence of a number of influential INGOs specializing in the field has contributed to the globalization of TJ. The establishment of an International Criminal Court [ICC] has supported the internationalization of formal justice mechanisms. The United Nations has also played a key role in the formulation and diffusion of TJ. The Human Rights Council’s creation of a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence is a recent example of the UN’s interest in the area.
Accompanying this proliferation of post-conflict and TJ practice is the normative and empirical research generated by scholars who have engaged critically with the subject. This research has produced a rich body of interdisciplinary scholarship around the normative and empirical claims within post-conflict and TJ discourse. TJ has thus become a site of contestation between the discourses of human rights and development, law and political science, the domestic and the international.
This scholarship has also spawned a tradition of critical work challenging the dominant assumptions within TJ discourse. In their seminal piece in International Security, Snyder and Vinjamuri famously initiated a longstanding debate on the efficacy of traditional TJ mechanisms such as prosecutions and truth-commissions in situations of political turmoil. Others have sought to problematise orthodox TJ’s conception of victimhood, questioning if its legalistic understanding of victims as those directly affected by violations of civil rights excludes victims of other types of deprivations, and gives rise to hierarchies of loss. Another type of critique views the globalization of TJ practice as limiting indigenous initiatives and imposing western, liberal and/or Judeo-Christian norms upon other cultures. These place-based perspectives urge a more victim-centered and less legalistic approach to TJ.
Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice in Asia
While Asia has not experienced the proliferation of TJ processes to the degree witnessed in Africa, Europe and Latin America, recent developments in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste demonstrate that local and international factors have compelled countries to adopt TJ practices.
In Cambodia, a hybrid tribunal functioning under the aegis of the United Nations and the government continues to prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders for their alleged crimes, while in Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal has prosecuted and convicted several individuals for the atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation. Debates around reconciliation in post-war Nepal have included questions of TJ, with Nepal’s government committing publicly to evolve a TJ mechanism in line with international standards. India has also attempted – through domestic and civil society processes – to reckon with the outbreak of racial violence in Gujarat.
In Sri Lanka, while offering divergent accounts of the conduct of Sri Lanka’s armed forces during the last stages of the war, reports by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts and the domestic Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission [LLRC] appeared to agree on critical aspects of TJ such as the importance of ensuring truth, justice and reparations in respect of the past. Japan and Korea have also attempted in some measure to reckon with their legacies of violence and activists and academics continue to urge accountability for past abuses in those societies.
Despite this recent trend towards the implementation of TJ processes in Asia, Asian scholarship has yet to evolve a systematic exploration of TJ praxis in the region. This under-theorisation leaves a number of questions unanswered. Do TJ processes in Asia possess unique distinguishing characteristics? What role do Asia’s religious traditions – particularly Buddhism and Hinduism – play in shaping TJ discourse and practice?
The ICES has a long commitment to the values of pluralism, inclusivity, dissent and critical scholarship, particularly in respect of Asia. Building on this legacy, this conference is intended to address two specific needs: first, expose the Asian scholar and activist audience to contemporary debates in the global post-conflict TJ discourse, and second, generate original Asian scholarly contributions to the existing corpus of post-conflict TJ scholarship.
The ICES will invite globally renowned TJ scholars and practitioners to present their perspectives on major theoretical and practical issues within contemporary TJ discourse. In addition, we also call for original contributions from Asian scholars, activists, practitioners from the public and private sectors, and students.
Selected papers will be divided for presentation into thematic panels, and will address Asian perspectives on the relevant themes. We welcome papers dealing with any of the conference’s themes that seek to critically engage, interrogate and analyse post-conflict TJ processes in Asia, the reception and diffusion of TJ processes and theory in Asian societies, and the interplay between TJ and Asian socio-political constructs. In this regard, we are particularly interested in comparative analyses of the post-conflict justice experiences of countries, and the applicability of these experiences for Asian societies. We are also interested in papers that seek to interrogate and rethink dominant orthodoxies within TJ discourse, particularly from an Asian perspective. The following are non-exhaustive groups of questions that papers may address under each theme.
Transitional Justice, Peace, Development
To what extent are TJ mechanisms essential in the transition out of conflict towards peace? Do TJ processes support – or undermine – prospects for peace and national reconciliation? To what extent may sequencing and timing of TJ processes address perceived tensions between TJ and peace? Could and to what extent does economic development substitute TJ processes? What is the relationship between TJ processes and the legitimization of a new regime? How may TJ processes open the door to examining the structural causes of abuse, and their more systemic impacts? What is the relationship between individual and collective justice claims, or between civil and political rights violations and economic and social rights violations?
Prosecution and Truth-Telling
To what extent does the pursuit of non-judicial truth-seeking mechanisms assist in the institution of criminal prosecutions, and vice versa? Does an honest truth-seeking mechanism sans criminal prosecution satisfy a state’s moral and legal obligations to deal with the past? What does ‘truth’ in truth-telling entail, and are there different versions of the truth? How do the demands of international law for investigation and prosecution relate to domestic political movements for truth and/or justice? To what extent does prosecution act as a deterrent at an individual and institutional level? Do prosecution and truth-telling mechanisms fulfill the expectations of victims, or do they reinforce false expectations?
Forms of Exclusion and Transitional Justice
To what extent is TJ gendered, and what does it mean to evolve a gendered critique of TJ processes? Do TJ processes in Asia adequately reflect the experiences of ethnic minorities, women, sexual minorities, youth and the disabled and how may these deficits – if any – be addressed? Do TJ practices transform – or entrench – patriarchal and other systems of oppression? To what extent do domestic and international laws address gender violence as a weapon of war?
What doctrinal approaches do Asia’s major religious traditions offer in respect of concepts of truth justice and reparations, particularly in the aftermath of atrocities? How do religious traditions and teaching mediate the tension between ideas of justice, farness, and consequence with notions of compassion, forgiveness, restoration and mercy? Is cultural difference an appropriate factor in prescribing certain types of TJ processes over others?
What is the role of international pressure in shaping TJ processes and reconciliation? To what extent do international mechanisms differ from domestic mechanisms in generating impacts within the country? What are the limitations of international TJ mechanisms and how may they be overcome? How does the application of the complementarity principle affect domestic political will to undertake TJ processes? Are hybrid mechanisms appropriate alternatives to purely international – or purely domestic – processes? Is TJ an essentially western imperialistic project? How may concerns over cultural and political neo-liberalism be addressed in the design and implementation of TJ processes?
Civil society, community-based approaches and Transitional Justice
What role should civil society actors properly play in post-conflict TJ processes, and to what extent do civil society actors ‘represent’ victims? How should TJ processes navigate potential tensions between the demands of different types of civil society actors, or between civil society actors and victims’ political representatives? What factors influence the nature, ideological biases and quality of civil society contributions to TJ discourse in specific contexts? Are there any commonalities, or divergences, that characterize community-based approaches to TJ in Asian post-conflict contexts? How do these community-based approaches that draw from local traditions interact with more formal TJ processes? Do these approaches tend to enhance – or compromise – reconciliation within the community and victims’ rights?
Constitutional transitions and political and institutional reform
How may post-conflict constitution building set out to address the causes and manifestations of violent conflict? How may political and constitutional reforms be crafted in ways that contribute to TJ processes, and similarly, how do TJ processes impact on the preparation, negotiation and implementation of constitutional and political reform? Do well-designed ‘constitutional transitions’, in which formerly disenfranchised and subjugated groups struggle and achieve a measure of political power, substitute formal TJ processes?
Memorials have been used to foster healing and promote social reconstruction after violent conflict. Memorials take a variety of shapes and forms and remember those who suffered or died in a conflict. Through this recognition and acknowledgement they seek to promote reconciliation and co-existence, provide symbolic reparations to survivors and to create a more accurate account of the past. This session will interrogate memorialisation through case studies that will look at process, impact and the politics. In particular, the session will look at the following questions: how does TJ manage the politicization of memory, and have initiatives for memorialisation exacerbated cleavages in society? What tools must TJ use to navigate the challenges of memorializing in societies where memories are the site of ethnic or religious contestation?
Reparation and economic justice
What are the challenges to designing and implementing an equitable reparations program? To what extent does the legalization of reparations requirements strengthen – or weaken – a society’s struggle for restoration? Are such economic justice mechanisms substitutes or complements to judicial accountability? Should these mechanisms be driven by victims’ right to reparation, citizens’ interest in financial accountability or the broader interests of addressing resource disparities?
Through this conference, ICES hopes to encourage the production of a critical mass of Asian post-conflict TJ scholarship, and help build an academically interdependent community of TJ scholars in the region. In addition, ICES hopes to help TJ practitioners and opinion makers in the region access the debates and tensions confronting the practice and theory of TJ in the rest of world. With this in mind, we anticipate that the conference will result in the publication of a dedicated volume.
Parallel to the conference and within the conference venue, ICES will provide a space within which artistic expressions relating to post-conflict justice may be exhibited. We invite proposals for installations or other projects in this regard.
Abstracts of approximately 500 words are invited by 1st December 2013.
International Centre for Ethnic Studies
2 Kynsey Terrace