The Committee on Justice and Human Rights hosted a workshop on transitional justice in Africa on 6 August 2018 at the PAP’s precinct in South Africa

The Transitional Justice Framework workshop was facilitated by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), a civil-society organisation that specialises in human rights and justice issues in South Africa.

The motivation for the workshop was to create an opportunity where experts could unpack the technical concepts associated with transitional justice. This would help the PAP play a vital role in the facilitation of the implementation and harmonisation of all AU policies, including the AU Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) once it has been adopted.

Before convening the workshop, the Committee recognised that African countries face a number of challenges in addressing the consequences of conflict, authoritarianism and oppression. Several countries on the continent are experiencing insurgency, including Mali with jihadists, northern Nigeria and Chad with Boko Haram, and Somalia with Al-Shabaab.

Other countries that have peace agreements – for instance, South Sudan and the Central African Republic – continue to record incidents of ongoing conflict. In addition, places such as the Gambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have undergone political transition with notable changes related to sustaining peace. All these examples present an opportunity for promoting transitional justice on the continent.

Defining transitional justice in Africa
Dr Hugo van der Merwe, director of research, learning and knowledge at the CSVR, described transitional justice as the full range of judicial and non-judicial processes and mechanisms associated with society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. The judicial transitional justice processes include:

  • Criminal prosecutions in national courts
  • Establishing international courts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • Civil claims by victims against perpetrators
  • Developing reparative measures that are responsive to victim’s needs, for instance the International Criminal Court Trust Fund for Victims.

It’s been noted that these judicial measures have limitations. Some victims seeking justice have complained about the cost of trials and the length of the processes. In certain countries, the judicial system is not accessible, inadequately equipped or lacks the required impartiality. Non-judicial transitional justice measures include:

  • Truth-seeking commissions
  • Memorialisation, for example by museums or in text books
  • Healing processes, such as trauma counselling or traditional rehabilitation rituals
  • Reconciliation, including dialogue spaces or reconciliation rituals
  • Institutional reforms that address policy failures.

Sufiya Bray explained that the AUTJP is a continental guideline for Member States to develop their own context-specific policies, strategies and programmes for democratic and socio-economic transformation.

Challenges facing Africa
Richard Chelin highlighted the challenges facing Africa in this context. The most significant of these are the legacies of colonialism, as many of these remain unresolved. Some of these are structural economic injustices; authoritarian political systems; identity politics; weak institutions; socio-economic and cultural violations; and gender disparities. He suggested that transitional justice processes should be used to analyse injustices, such as colonialism, and offer justice to the victims. Beyond colonialism, violent extremism driven by ideology is a key challenge. While transitional justice can help in some way, comprehensive research is needed to understand this issue.

Gender-based violence is another challenge that is rampant in many African nations, especially as women are often subjected to attacks when there is conflict.

The final trend to highlight is that of socio-economic justice. Countries such as South Africa are still grappling with this. During apartheid, 50 000 people were killed through violence. But 10 times that number died because of illness, lack of medication or poverty.

Role of the PAP in implementing the AUTJP
Bray informed participants that the CSVR has been working with various AU organs on the AUTJP. However, the belief is that the policy is unlikely to draw a lot of attention from Member States, so the PAP will play a key role in monitoring implementation.

Conclusions and recommendations
After much debate, the Committee made several recommendations. The highlights are:

  • The CSVR must create a transitional justice brochure that will form the basis of a follow-up workshop
  • The CSVR must assist the Committee with drafting a declaration on transitional justice for adoption by
    the PAP Plenary, and it must consider developing transitional justice guidelines for MPs
  • Fact-finding missions to Rwanda and Burundi were recommended
  • After the AUTJP is adopted, the PAP should embark on regional consultations to promote the policy.
Photography: Bill Oxford/Unsplash