Over the past few years we have been conducting research, formulating policy advice and lobbying on the topic of victim participation in transitional justice (TJ).
The development of transitional justice as an indispensable response to gross human rights abuses has been accompanied by growing recognition of the importance of victim participation. Victims had a key role as a political driving force in the early days of transitional justice and were at the core of innovative approaches and pushing TJ processes forward. However, this role may no longer be as central to TJ, with the field being progressively institutionalised and technified.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence emphasises that none of the benefits to be gained from transitional justice can be achieved effectively “on the backs of victims without their meaningful participation”. An EU policy framework on transitional justice, adopted in 2015, also “encourages states to adopt a victim-centered approach to transitional justice”.
In the absence of victim participation, it is assumed that policies to deal with the past will be detached from affected communities, will face difficulties in generating local ownership, and will fail to address the grievances of the victims of serious crimes. Despite the clear need and prioritization of victim participation in policy commitments, the specific contours of what constitutes meaningful participation, its actual impact, and its effectiveness remain uncertain.
We therefore want to contribute to a discussion on how to define what constitutes meaningful and effective participation and strengthen TJ policy to enable it. A continuation of the current approach, which often merely uses victim participation as an empty ritual without evaluating its impact, risks hindering the interests of victims and societies in the aftermath of massive human rights violations.
We began our work on victim participation in Burundi in 2012. Our programme aimed to identify the needs and expectations of the Burundian population with regard to their participation in transitional justice processes. We have since expanded and continued our work on this topic. Through our programmes we seek to ensure that victims of human rights violations are equipped to meaningfully participate in and influence the design and/or implementation of TJ measures and policies. We aim to give them the tools to organise and advocate for their rights and demands. We explore opportunities to expand victim participation to the operationalisation of guarantees of non-recurrence and prevention. We also work with policymakers to persuade them to provide victims with formal avenues of participation and preserve and protect victims ‘space for civil engagement and activism.
More information on our victim participation research can be found here.
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