Week in Review: Transitional Justice “Looking Back and Moving Forward”?

Week in Review: Transitional Justice “Looking Back and Moving Forward”?©EU/ECHO/Thomas Conan
Burundi refugees at the Mahama refugee camp, Rwanda
1 min 55Approximate reading time

In a recent critical analysis of transitional justice, Netherlands-based NGO Impunity Watch wrote: “Despite the rise in the field’s popularity, there are also many questions raised about its legitimacy and effectiveness. Engaging with this paradox, this review seeks to study how transitional justice practice might ‘look back and move forward’.” This slogan is much loved by practitioners of transitional justice, a developing and controversial field. The fact remains that transitional justice still needs adequate means and tools.

The Genocide Network this week held a meeting in The Hague of European war crimes units on how better to bring suspected perpetrators to justice. “There is currently no extradition treaty for war criminals, no judicial tools,” said Gérard Dive, head of the Belgian Task Force on international justice. “If you are an accomplice to a small money-laundering operation, all the modern tools are in place. But if you participate in genocide, there is nothing.” It is for this reason that several countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Argentina and Slovenia are calling for an extradition treaty for war criminals. Such a treaty would be all the more relevant today in Europe, which is taking in amongst Syrian refugees a certain number of suspected war criminals.

Another hotly debated subject is the efficiency of judicial systems in transition countries. Tunisia, for example, which likes to see itself as a trail-blazer, has some serious weaknesses to address. Karim Lahidji, head of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told JusticeInfo.net in an interview that “justice is not independent in Tunisia”. Lahidji denounced torture in police stations, intimidation of lawyers and discriminatory laws and practices, notably against women.

Another problem for transitional justice is how it can be used and manipulated by governments, as is the case, for example, in Burundi. A meeting in Arusha supposedly on reconciliation saw the opposition excluded. Former Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye, a key player in the 2000 Arusha accords which paved the way for transition, denounced this situation in an interview with JusticeInfo.net. “I feel frustrated (…) because after the signing of the Arusha accords, I hoped we were going to bury for good (…) this desire to keep excluding each other,” he said. “Unfortunately the government in place today (…) has cultivated the mentality of exclusion (…). That is highly detrimental to the stability of Burundi and has led to the situation we are experiencing in Burundi today.”

The remembrance war between Palestine and Israel described by Pierre Hazan, who has just returned from the region, is further proof that transitional justice is also a battle. “Without a peace process, the remembrance war is likely to intensify,” writes JusticeInfo’s editorial advisor Hazan. “For both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the legitimacy of their cause remains as ever tied to a rhetoric of victimhood. Next year will mark a half century of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and we can expect the war of words to heat up further.”

Without a peace process, and also a justice process in this region of the world, he might have added.