International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

“The Case for Justice” by ICTJ

This video from the International Center for Transitional Justice makes the “case for justice” by highlighting different examples of countries in transition from violence (e.g. Colombia, Egypt, DRC, Uganda, Cambodia, etc.) and where there are impunity gaps.

  • What arguments does ICTJ make for why justice is necessary?
  • What are the different obstacles to accountability across the cases?
  • How does ICTJ’s conception of “justice” compare to those we discussed in class and in the assigned readings?

5 responses to ““The Case for Justice” by ICTJ

  1. yaljarani October 10, 2012 at 3:06 am

    A little over two minutes into the video, we hear David Tolbert, ICTJ President, accentuate the need to address histories of injustice and rights abuses within transitional societies in order to achieve what he calls “a more prosperous, peaceful, democratic future.” Such a conflation and sloganization of deeply complex, individuated concepts such as prosperity – which often takes on meanings beyond the maximization of GNI per capita – threatens to mislead listeners from the diverse set of objectives transitional justice serves to advance predicated on a country’s unique history of political violence, oppression, civil war, so on and so forth. To judge Mr. Tolbert off of a sound bite would be unfair, but the video content that followed his statement served only to reinforce the prudence organizations like the ICTJ must assume so as to better inform their audience of the goals of transitional justice, universal and localized conceptions. The countries mentioned all have very different legacies of violence, cultural and religious histories, social and economic conditions that need to be thoroughly analyzed when approaching the process of facilitating national reconciliation. That might not have proven a problem if the video’s focus was on punitive measures associated with justice, which are often universal, within a given country. However, what we find emphasized in the presented accounts of violence are concepts like truth, dignity, social healing, and sustainable peace across myriad countries.

    In our readings, we find that in some cases promoting prosperity, peace, justice, and democracy requires concessions to be made within that grouping itself. As Diane Orentichler put it, some societies may find reconciliation and forgiveness likelier than prosecutions to secure the end of savage armed conflict. Bronwyn Leebaw points out that substantial reprisal killings have taken place in Kosovo and Rwanda since the creation of the ICTY and the ICTR. The problem is that the goal of individual healing is often in tension with other transitional justice goals. Transitional situations are dynamic and sometimes transitional compromises serve an interim purpose that do not necessarily accomplish permanent goals like establishing political communities based on the principles of human rights and the rule of law. It is easy to talk about peace, prosperity, and democracy, and while they may go hand-in-hand in many circumstances and should be striven for, it is difficult to address the idea that sometimes reaching stability and bringing an end to the killing in a transitional society supersedes the establishment of democratic institutions. Sometimes, it is worth considering whether lives can be saved at the expense of doing justice if people like Bashar al-Assad are granted amnesty for their crimes. A layer of inspirational music, an onslaught of buzz-words, and a barrage of countries ultimately misses the point of transitional justice – responding to local contexts, traditions, and political dynamics with prudence and a critical eye so as “to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation” (UN Security Council). This, however, requires tacit acknowledgment that sometimes, all of these goals cannot be achieved to the extent one might ideally envision.

  2. brandon459 October 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    The first post of this video thread a very good, detailed overview of the how the video connects to a lot of the class principles learned. It provides excellent insight to the struggles of having such an idealistic view of transitional justice. On one hand, we would all like to have peace, prosperity, and democracy simultaneously; sometimes one has to take priority over another. To add to the dilemma, each country, such as the six in the video, have different situations, each needing their individual plan towards establishing these virtues.

    Getting back to the ICTJ video, the part I want to respond to is from 14:00 to the end. The headings that say, “Today, like never before, justice is firmly on the agenda. Justice, truth, and dignity are demands of millions across the globe.” This heading speaks to the fundamental goal of the ICTJ. Transitional justice is needed for people to heal. It gives them the truth to heal and move on. Transitional justice serves as a promise that peace is going to be a sustainable part of the future. I do not agree with the first post that the “goal of individual healing is often in tension with other transitional justice goals”. Transitional justice is not meant to serve an interim purpose, but rather as a transition to establish the above virtues. For most societies this cannot be done without both societal and individual healing. This video describes the effectiveness of even truth commissions. While it has no retributive principles, truth commissions help with general morality of groups. People have to right to know and hear the truth in major conflicts. Thus it makes transitional justice an important step in the overall process.

  3. kquinteroh October 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    In the video and in the readings, the ideas of transitional justice focus on how to work through the legacies of the conflict. However, there appears to be a lack of discussion about the conditions that were precursors to the atrocities that happened. While questions of this sort could lend themselves towards preventive tactics, they might also be important to understanding what ‘justice’ will look like for a certain community. In other words, analyzing what went wrong, or what was the breaking point that allowed for these heinous crimes to be committed in the first place should also be factored in the ways restoration will be pursued. For example, the roots of conflict can sometimes be found at the marginalization of a certain group of society therefore efforts at greater inclusion in post-conflict setting should also be necessary.

  4. amyg414 October 14, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    There are a number of different obstacles that justice initiatives face in post-conflict societies. This ICTJ video highlights a handful of countries in this transition phase and tries to identify why justice—in its varying forms—is an integral part of this process. To be fair, the length of the video prevents any thorough examination of these topics and it is surely not intended to be an all-encompassing examination of the importance of transitional justice.

    With respect to the actual content of the video, I think it does convey that the concept of “justice” goes far beyond criminal trials and prosecutions. Truth commissions, institutional reforms and reparations can be just as important and are even more powerful than criminal prosecutions in some societies. Specifically, I found the segments about Egypt very interesting since this is an extremely recent TJ process. Though Hosni Mubarak ceded power, restrictions on freedom and abusive policies persisted. In order for there to be justice, these abuses must be acknowledged and the institutions rebuilt. This holistic approach is echoed in the film when they claim that justice is a “full and comprehensive process,” and I believe it clearly shows that the process of justice is much more comprehensive than simply the removal of a dictator.

  5. parvathy249 October 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    After giving such a compelling account of the Egyptian Revolution, I find it deeply troubling that the Egyptian man at the beginning of the video could say so casually, “a second revolution is just a must” when speaking of the potential downhill consequences of the recent overtake by the military in Egypt. This instance in the video, along with the “case for justice” – as defined by ICTJ – make me automatically question what truly makes a country feel like justice has been fully served.
    In Uganda, for instance, a citizen says that a criminal trial is not enough to have justice, he demands services like healthcare and resettlement, but exactly from whom do they expect this?

    My point is mainly the following: throughout the video, the thought that the people are owed something is constantly reinforced. There are not enough moments when people say, “WE can’t let this happen again.”
    A part of acquiring justice must be institutionalizing ways for the people to hold their leaders accountable on a regular basis. In the sense that, the people cannot wait to intervene until the circumstances have become so dire.

    People have to be constantly curious, often inquisitive on their governments’ actions in order to avoid the downfall spiral of autocracies or dictatorships. There is no way to know that the people will not elect another dictator again (when did they know they were doing so the first time?), as the Egyptian speaker confidently said in the beginning of the video – the only way to avoid this again is not even only by initiating a criminal trial. The only way to avoid it is for people to stay constantly aware and alert of the government’s actions.

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