International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: victims

Colombian Peace Deal: Truly Victim Centric?

Monday evening, September 26th Farc leader, Rodrigo Londono (aka. Timochenko) apologized to victims of the armed conflict in Colombia during the signing of the new peace deal. The history of the conflict in Colombia stems from the Cold War. The major players involved in signing the peace deal were the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) – the predominant rebel guerrilla group in the country – and the Colombian government. The group has existed since 1964 and represents the armed wing of the Communist party. Their primary technique in war has been guerrilla warfare in rural areas.

2012 initiated the start of public peace talks in Havana which have culminated in the peace deal established yesterday evening. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the very ceremonious occasion. All dignitaries in attendance were dressed in white to symbolize peace. A pen constructed from a bullet was used to further exemplify the aspirations for peace behind the deal. Timochenko assured Colombia and the world that his group would be hanging up their guns for good and even asked for forgiveness in his apology to the victims of his crimes. Serious questions remain about the practicality of a new peace in democracy without holding the perpetrators legally accountable.screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-2-19-32-pm

The deal prescribes political party status for the Farc meaning that the now former rebel group will take part in the 2018 legislative elections. In accordance with the deal, the group will be afforded a minimum of ten seats in the legislature for the first two Congressional sessions. There exists a faction within Colombia that remain distrustful of the Farc and are angry that members of the rebel force will be allowed to participate in Congress without first serving jail time for their crimes.


In an interview with BBC President Manuel Santos notes that the peace process has been centered around the needs of the eight million victims created by the 50 year war. The interviewer notes that two former Colombian presidents denounce the deal as “virtual amnesty”. Santos insists that impunity does not exist. He continues that the process has involved truth and reparations on an unprecedented scale to work to amend the wrongdoing. Santos describes the mentality of the negotiations on his part which insisted on “maximum justice that will allow us peace” (Santos, 2016). The next phase will be the most difficult in terms of reconstructing the culture, values, and social network of Colombia. Santos admits that the process will not be easy and may take many years; however, he appears optimistic for the countries future and proud of the restorative work his government has initiated. 


Alain and Dafroza Gauthier: Searching for Justice

recent NY Times article profiled the work of Alain and Dafroza Gauthier, who have spent the past 13 years collecting evidence for the prosecution of 24 perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who are now hiding in France. Their efforts have been successful; “Paris appointed five judges to investigate the matter of the Rwandan fugitives and opened a police section specializing in crimes of genocide. Next month, the judges are scheduled to bring their first criminal case against a Rwandan fugitive accused of genocide” (NY Times).

Their success illustrates how important individuals actors are to the spread of norms of international justice and the end of impunity (a theme explored in the most recent chapter we’ve read from Kathryn Sikkink’s The Justice Cascade). It also helps to understand the human toll of impunity–how an obsession for justice for family and a beloved country can lead two individuals with no background in law (he’s a former school principal and teacher, she’s a chemical engineer) to devote decades of their lives to an investigation. Justice for atrocities is more than an abstract concept–it has real value to victims.

This case also reveals the stakes of pursuing international justice for individual states. Rwanda and France only resumed diplomatic ties in 2009, and while these prosecution will likely improve ties between the two countries, “there is a risk the rapprochement could be set back if the trial results in a short sentence or acquittal. ‘The Rwandans would not be happy at all with that,’ acknowledged one French diplomatic source” (Reuters, 9/12/13).

Also interesting is the revelation from Alain Gauthier that perpetrators of atrocities in hiding “come across as pillars of society, be it as practicing priests and doctors. ‘They try to be forgotten,’ he said” (Reuters). Dafroza Gauthier explains that these perpetrators have “always denied, they have created another story, they have completely erased that part of their lives. They were obliged to do so, otherwise you end up in a mental institution. You can’t live with a crime like that” (Mrs. Gauthier, quoted in NY Times). It is chilling to think that individuals with so much blood on their hands could resume a normal life and take up a position of trust in the community, especially when victims have so much trouble resuming their normal lives and moving past the tragedy. Perhaps this is one reason why justice in the wake of atrocities is so essential–it forces perpetrators to confront their crimes and the victims whose lives they’ve shattered.

Bloody Monday in Guinea, calls for the ICC, and the HRW

On September 28, 2009, there was an opposition rally in a stadium in Conakry (the capital city of Guinea). This included killings, sexual assaults, and more. These crimes were committed for the most part by members of the Presidential Guard of Guinea (with evidence hinting that it was planned ahead of time).

That was three years ago. Today, the Human Rights Watch released a report that analyzed what Guinea has done to hold the perpetrators responsible. For the victims, this means that they have been waiting more than three years for the abusers to be held accountable.

The investigation is not complete, and key witnesses have not been interviewed. Human Rights Watch is calling for the government of Guinea to give more support, including making sure that the panel of investigative judges can work effectively (and with enough resources).

The report also said that the ICC and UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict have contributed critical assistance. The ICC has Guinea situation under preliminary examination as of October 2009. Victims have shown that they are waiting for the ICC to investigate the September 2009 crimes.


HRW on the investigation

U.N. Peacekeeping in the Eastern Congo

This article offers an interesting insight into the myriad difficulties faced by U.N. military intervention, specifically in the Eastern Congo. As highlighted in the article, MONUSCO has repeatedly failed to protect the civilian population as per its mandate-the most striking example involved rebels decapitating civilians and parading their heads in front of an apathetic peacekeeping force. The litany of failures by MONUSCO is appalling, as per the article:

In 2005, MONUC (the former name for MONUSCO) expelled 63 of its soldiers for paying refugee children for sex. A separate internal inquiry the same year found that Pakistani peacekeepers sold weapons to militias in exchange for gold. While those incidents may be exceptional, TIME has seen in repeated trips to eastern Congo how, at the first sign of trouble, blue-helmet peacekeepers habitually barricade themselves into their bases, leaving crowds of several thousand refugees who tend to gather outside to fend for themselves.

Given the fairly obvious failures of the U.N. peacekeeping force to protect civilians, does it instead make more sense to focus efforts on alternative means of support? A large majority of the authors read and discussed thus far are concerned with rebuilding societies after conflict and devastation have occurred, not during. Given the inability of the U.N. to protect civilians through peacekeeping forces, what other means can be employed, or is it simply a matter of reforming MUNESCO?

Victim Participation in the Justice Process

For the past several weeks we have been exploring several components of transitional justice outside of the realm of trials and retributive justice, including truth commissions and various forms of local justice. Many of these modes of justice are largely victim-centered and are focused on the healing and recovery of individuals and communities who have been exposed to mass violence.

In the most recent unit’s assigned reading, Luc Huyse says in his “Introduction: tradition-based approaches in peacemaking, transitional justice, and reconciliation policies” that in the past decade there has been a “move from a de facto dichotomy (impunity or trials) to multiple conceptions of justice and reconciliation- state and non-state instruments; legal, semi-judicial, and non-judicial techniques”. Within all of these techniques, where is the best place for dealing with victims and providing the most healing towards the victims?

Chris Tenove recently wrote a post on Justice in Conflict, where he outlines several different approaches to victim participation including: treating victims as legal clients, treating victims as secondary to criminal trial, and the transitional justice approach.

I personally think that ICC trials and the vast majority of trials in general tend to be inherently political and the interests of the prosecutor don’t always align with the interests of the victim. I think that having a separate forum for victim participation is more beneficial to the interests of victims. I think that the ICC could successfully administer a restorative forum for victims separate from the trial, but I also believe there are other mediums that could prove equally, if not more, successful. I am most apprehensive about state-administered approaches such as the gacaca courts in Rwanda, but I think that there are other forms of more local justice that can be successful. I’d be interested to hear more thoughts on what other people think is the best forum(s) for victim participation in the transitional justice process.

The Role of Victims in the ICC.

I recently came across an extremely interesting blog post by Mark Kersten on the Justice in Conflict blog. The post talks about the future of victim participation in the ICC.

Victim participation is an important and pressing conflict that is bound to be discussed at the next assembly of state parties. Mark Kersten, however, explicates how the proposed changes in victim participation in the Kenya 1 and Kenya 2 decisions could serve as a lynchpin for future reform. The new schemes of victim participation in Kenya 1 and Kenya 2 create a two-tiered system of victim participation. First, victims who want to directly participate in the court proceedings can submit a proposal to chambers which proves their status as victims, similar to the current process. Second, victims can communicate and inform a common legal representative of his situation, and they do not have to submit anything to chambers.

As Kersten writes, this new proposal, if the CLR’s are well trained, and well funded, has the potential to save time, and money, and “is apparently designed to enable participation that is both deep and broad.”

In the end, Kersten tentatively endorses the new proposals, as he believes they best represent a view of victim participation in the ICC which is oriented around a balanced, efficient transitional justice. As he writes: “Rather than emphasize the impact of victims on legal proceedings, a victim-centered approach shifts attention from the courtroom to the lives of victims. It asks whether participation contributes material or normative resources to help victims pursue justice, and it is attentive to ways that victim participation could cause disappointment or even conflict between those allowed to participate and those who are not.”

So, in conclusion, I agree with Kersten that the new proposal has the potential to solve pitfalls in current victim participation, namely how to best allocate resources to contribute  with victim healing without damaging the criminal proceedings, and the efficiency of those proceedings. The ICC must continue to develop a “justice balance” approach to transitional justice that emphasizes accountability, reconciliation, and victim participation. What do you guys think? Do the new proposals sound like a solid foundation for future reform? Does victim participation need reform? Or should victim participation be limited, and should the money instead be spent on reparations?

Art’s Place in Transitional Justice

Death and the Maiden is a play written by Chilean author Ariel Dorfman in 1991, after he returned to the newly-democratic Chile from exile, with the country in an uneasy transition and Pinochet still in command of the armed forces. The Rettig Commission was carrying out its work, and Dorfman felt the need to break the self-censoring silence that still remained in everyday life, of victims and perpetrators living side-by-side, coexisting, and, he says, “never acknowledging the pain and the guilt, not to themselves, not to anybody.”

The play itself is provocative, moving, and extremely relevant to our class, but it and Dorfman’s explanations of its necessity in transitory Chilean society raise an issue that we haven’t discussed much: the role of art in transitional justice. Art, especially in the case of Death and the Maiden, addresses the plight of the individual, of the victim and the perpetrator as humans, and of the relationships that compose society and everyday life after a such a massive break in the social fabric as an authoritarian regime or mass atrocity.

I think that we’ve been hinting at the more individualized and psychological requirements of transitional justice on this blog, in the class, and in some of the readings, and the role of art gives us a new way to discuss them. Dorfman makes the case for raising art above the therapeutic role that it is typically assigned, and giving it an integral place in reconciliation. With all of the focus we have put on the truth, it is important to remember that before the truth can emerge, there has to be a way of breaking through silence.

In his afterward to Death and the Maiden, Dorfman explains his motivations behind writing the play, giving the reader insight into his personal experiences during the transition, and asking many of the questions with which transitional justice is forced to struggle. I’ve included a break with one of these passages: Read more of this post

The ICC, Restorative Justice and Peace

The International Criminal Court was established as an institution for the pursuit of perpetrators of human rights, war crimes and genocide. The very nature of the crimes the court aims to decide make it into an institution of retributive justice. In the nascent days if the court, after his cooperative approach gleaned few advances, Luis Moreno-Ocampo decided to aggressively pursue Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb. His goal? To arrest and try them, to punish their actions to such an extent that would deter future violations of human rights. This is not only his goal as the independent prosecutor, but the goal for the ICC as an institution. The very nature of the ICC is disposed toward retributive justice. In fact, Moreno-Ocampo grew concerned when his pursuit disrupted peace negotiations, but what role does the pursuit of retributive justice play in the attainment of peace?

One important aspect to keep in mind about justice is the difference between retributive and restorative justice. While retributive justice regulates proportionate response to crime proven through legitimate evidence, so that punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved, restorative justice is concerned not so much with retribution and punishment as with making the victim whole and bringing the perpetrator back into society. This approach frequently brings an offender and a victim together; it teaches the offender to understand the pains of the victim and his or her role in inflicting them.

However, it is also notable to mention that the ICC’s mandate creates a court that aims to achieve retributive justice for those who have been victimized. While the Goetz article mentioned the strong efforts to use victims at trials in order to make the court an institution of restorative justice as well, those efforts seem to have little support. Firstly, the process to use victims in trials is riddled with red tape and bureaucratic procedures that impede the victims’ ability to share their memories and explain the ways in which their rights and liberties were violated. And—even though these attempts to “restore” the victims through the achievement of justice are commendable, will restorative justice bring peace? Furthermore, it seems that bringing victims into the courtroom may violate another part of the ICC’s mandate–that there must be a presumption of innocence. How does the ICC integrate these victims while preserving the rights of the accused? It seems that the ICC is an institution distinctly mandated for retributive justice, and this fervor for punishment of criminals disrupts the peace negotiation and order-renewing process in war-torn countries. Furthermore, the degree of intensity regarding the pursuit of retributive justice undermines the ability of the ICC to attempt restorative justice. Or is restorative justice purely the responsibility of the domestic level courts? This idea would further fragment the courts, with the ICC breaking the perpetrators and detaining them, distancing them from the individuals they have harmed. How is restorative justice to trickle down to the victims, who are thousands of miles from the Hague and have little access to tools of information and awareness despite voluntary efforts from supportive nations?

Dealing with compensation for victims.

As is well noted, the next chief prosecutor of the ICC is Fatou Bensouda, who many believe will take the Court in a more victim-centered direction.  One of the ways that justice is provided to victims is through compensation, which would come out of the finances of those on trial at the Hague.  The victims of war crimes undoubtedly suffer more misery and pain than most people can imagine, and the healing process takes a lot of time.  This article from All discusses the possible ways that victims of war crimes could be compensated.

I thought this article was interesting because it touched on some of the more difficult aspects about providing justice for victims.  The ICC has what they call the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) to assist them, but often has budget issues.  Often times the TFV’s financial problems hinder its ability to properly compensate those who have been harmed.  And it is not just the monetary aspect of it; there have been countless people who have been affected by war criminals and money is not going to solve the problem.  What the article cited as most important was recognition of wrongdoing.  Acknowledging that a crime took place perhaps eases victims suffering.