Thursday, April 14, 2011

Building Democracy From the Ashes of Dictatorship

The first session of the conference covered the topic of transitional justice in post-authoritarian settings, with particular attention to experiences from Latin America.

The speakers and participants emphasized the need for a holistic and creative approach to transitional justice, remembering that traditional justice - or criminal justice - is an integral part of transitional justice, but still just a part.

Panelists Zalaquett, Rahmouni and de Greiff (l-r)
Ahmed Rahmouni, president of the Association Tunisienne des Magistrats (AMT), began by introducing the speakers and stressed legal accountability and prosecutions as the core of transitional justice.

Jose Zalaquett, professor of human rights at the Law School of the University of Chile, explained, "Transitional justice can act as an ice breaker opening up pathways for future redress. Over time it amounts to something substantial despite temporary reversals or occasional setbacks. It is not an exhaustive agenda of social, economic and political transformation but has to be linked to other policy initiatives."

The second panelist, Pablo de Greiff, director of ICTJ's Research Unit, explained these main points to remember when discussing transitional justice:

  • Transitional justice is not a special kind of justice, it's a comprehensive strategy in contexts where systemic abuse has happened.
  • Transitional justice is not simply about the past and not simply for the sake of benefiting victims. It is something that should benefit the society as a whole.
  • It does not invent new legal obligations, but expressing existing state obligations. 
  • The different elements of a transitional justice policy are interrelated with one another and they work best when they are implemented in a way where the links are clear.
  • Transitional justice should be conceived of as a process and not just as a particular set of measures. It requires great planning and consultation.
Participants listen to speakers on the link
between transitional justice & policy
The question and answer session focused largely on criminal prosecutions, vetting and exclusion of former officials, and reconciliation. Professor Z explained that vetting must be approached carefully to make sure it does not become a "witch hunt."
    The next session will focus on judicial accountability and trials. See the full schedule here.

    We are live tweeting from the conference. Find us on twitter at

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