Summary of the talk
Victim Participation is increasingly seen as an important dimension of transitional justice, which benefits both the victims themselves (by acknowledging their suffering and providing avenues towards empowerment) as well for the justice process (by increasing the legitimacy and local embeddedness of the TJ intervention). Victim participation is moreover argued to be crucial in terms of ensuring the sustainability of the justice process, because of the assumption that victim-participants are likely to “return to their communities as ambassadors of the justice process”.
Guatemala is one of the countries in which victim participation and a victim-orientation has heavily shaped the transitional justice process, and most notably the various (formal and informal) truth commissions that were organised in the country in the late-1990s. The suffering inflicted upon indigenous populations, and indigenous women more specifically, triggered a willingness on the side of – international – practitioners to develop and roll out this transitional justice mechanism in a responsive and contextually relevant way.
Nevertheless, also in cases that are as victim-oriented as the Guatemalan one, the question arises whether the needs and priorities of victims can ever really be taken into account, and how much formal transitional justice mechanisms can do in terms of integrating and reflecting victims’ priorities and in using these as the organising principle.In this talk I argue that, despite recent great advances with regard to, for example, exhumations and the recovery of the National Police’s Historical Archive, the strong dominance that legal scholars and practitioners have had for a long time in the field of transitional justice, is still visible in certain biases. One of these biases is the bias for foregrounding civil and political rights (violations). I ask what the effect of these biases is on victim-participants’ understanding of justice, accountability and what their rights are, and how this affects the prospects for a sustainable justice going forward.
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