Definition of Transitional Justice in Africa
How the Network defined transitional justice had obvious implications for who and what was captured in this exercise. In general, the definition utilized was that of mechanisms and activities employed to deal with the violent human rights violations of a country’s past. In particular, organizations who were involved in activities relating to memorialisation, reparations, justice for victims, reconciliation, prosecutions, and to a much lesser extent institutional reform, were targeted here.
Within Africa, this traditional definition of transitional justice has been challenged by some as being too narrow; for failing to take into consideration adequately a context where mass poverty and socio-economic concerns inform the needs of victims and the object of justice. This criticism has been leveled in particular by organizations in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Liberia, all of whom have included issues of corruption as a key crime to be addressed, making the argument that this ‘structural violence’ has had far wider implications than direct violence, and that it has been and continues to be a fault-line for violent conflict.
A further challenge to defining transitional justice in Africa is that of incorporating traditional modes of traditional justice into current modern understandings of transitional justice. For example, many grass roots organizations work in either traditional justice or local community dispute resolution. This work could be defined as community reconciliation, however because both the relationship between traditional justice and transitional justice and the overlaps between traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and reconciliation are as yet largely unexplored, these organizations have sometimes fallen outside the traditional boundaries of the field.
Each of these issues points to the need for the Network to assist in developing an African definition or understanding of transitional justice as it moves forward, in order to ensure that the definition used, and the work undertaken by the ATJRN, is relevant to the African context.
Limitations of the exercise
As mentioned above, the mapping exercise was limited by both the definition of transitional justice utilized as well as the methodology employed.
Additional challenges which arose during the course of the research include:
- As transitional justice is still a relatively new field, many organizations do not necessarily define or understand their work through this lens. In some cases traditionally peacebuilding and human rights organizations have begun to engage in transitional justice related activities in individual projects. However as there are literally thousands of human rights and peacebuilding organizations on the continent, it has not been possible to examine each of these in order to assess whether individual projects incorporate elements of transitional justice in their work. Those that the Network did come across, and that appeared to be doing TJ related work, are recorded here.
- Related to the issue of the definition of ‘transitional justice’ used was that organizations may not be employing ‘key terms’ that were looked for in the research – for example, an organization may consider itself a grass roots conflict resolution institution when in fact it promotes traditional mechanisms as a route to community reconciliation.
- The mapping exercise was difficult to conduct in areas where civil society is either embryonic or weak, or, where civil society has not been left untouched by the conflict but has become politicized. This has been of particular concern in countries such as the DRC and Rwanda.
- Information on the Horn of Africa in particular was difficult to access and there are serious gaps in the database in terms of organizations involved in this work in that region. This is due in part to the destruction and/or newness of civil society in countries such as Sudan and Somalia, but is also due to difficulty in accessing information on these areas through the methodology employed. What information was found points to the existence of primarily traditional human rights and peacebuilding organizations.
- Language was a further barrier, in particular in the Great Lakes and North African regions.
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