The CSS Blog Network

Striking the Right Balance: Truth at the Heart of Transitional Justice in Colombia

Flag of the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia” (FARC). Image: MrPenguin20/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Justice in Conflict on 25 September, 2015. Republished with permission.

It wasn’t long ago that the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government seemed stuck. Little if any progress was being made and the biggest barrier to a final accord – agreeing on how to achieve justice and accountability for past atrocities – was proving impossible to overcome. However, in the last few weeks all of the parties agreed to a plan to achieve transitional justice. It was undoubtedly a remarkable development. But did Colombia and the FARC strike the right balance between peace and justice?

When I was interviewing the FARC on the peace negotiations in Havana earlier this year, the atmosphere was tense. The FARC, the rebel faction fighting the Colombian government since the early 1960s, responded to renewed military offensive by suspending their unilateral ceasefire. At that moment, reaching an agreement seemed like a distant prospect, despite the fact that the parties had already been negotiating for three years. Energy and stamina were at their lowest point and those closely involved in the negotiations confided that discussions had been at an impasse for over a year on the issue of justice. After having reached substantive agreements on the three previous agenda points (land reform, political participation, and the illegal drug trade), the talks had stalled on the age-old dilemma of peace versus justice. » More

Has Egypt’s Judiciary Become the New Theatre of the Absurd?

Young Egyptians protestig Morsi and the military. Image: Hamada Elrasam for VOA/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 7 July 2015.

The recent death sentence passed down on former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, along with 106 others, is far from being the only politically motivated conviction made by the Egyptian courts. Mass trials have become common since the July 2013 coup, which ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

Collectively, these court decisions have raised serious questions about the independence of the judiciary, and suggest that the courts are merely an extension of the military regime, rather than an independent arm of the state.

Characteristic of these trials is the lack of due process throughout investigation and trial proceedings, the absence of objective evidence presented during trials and increasing numbers of defendants held incommunicado without access to legal representation. Lack of transparency is also evident, with courts refusing to make judgements public, proof that the judicial functions in the country are fast becoming politicised. » More

‘Parrhesia’: the Radical Destruction of Impunity

French Philosopher Michel Foucault. Image: thierry ehrmann/Flickr

This article was originally published by OpenSecurity on 26 May 2015 as part of the “States of Impunity” series.

Impunity is not simply a juridical, technical problem, or some sort of loophole in the law that lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists can close with greater effort. Impunity lies at the heart of a dispositive that encompasses, neutralizes and even recuperates almost all attempts to redress it. We have come to this disturbing realization on the basis of both empirical and theoretical attempts to understand how contemporary legal, political or civil-society practices run the risk, despite their benevolence, of falling into the propagandistic rhetoric, social conformism and bureaucratic indifference that feed impunity. » More

Guatemala Prosecutes a President, but Progress Falters

Cartoon image of Efraín Rios Montt (front) and President Ronald Reagan (back). Image: Truthout.org/Flickr

This article was originally published by OpenSecurity on 29 April, 2015.

Barring hurricanes, landslides and the occasional drug trafficking story, Guatemala doesn’t often reach our newspapers or TV screens. But in spring 2013, this small Central American country made the headlines when it put its former president on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges against General Efraín Ríos Montt and his Intelligence Chief, General Rodríguez Sanchez, were based on a military campaign in 1982-3 that targeted indigenous Mayan civilians. This was not a case of rogue troops, but sophisticated and brutal social engineering thinly masked as counter-insurgency against leftist rebels. Unlike Yugoslavia and Rwanda however, Guatemala was not given an international tribunal, or even a ‘hybrid’ war crimes court like Sierra Leone or Bosnia. Instead, justice came only 30 years later and from the most unlikely of places: an official state tribunal. » More

Rwanda: How to Deal with a Million Genocide Suspects

Skulls of victims of the 1994 genocide. Image: Steve Evans/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 7 April, 2015.

Twenty-one years ago – on April 7, 1994 – the genocide that would kill up to one million people in Rwanda began. Another million individuals would be implicated as perpetrators, leaving Rwandans and many others to ask: how does a country begin to bring so many suspects to justice?

In 2002, the Rwandan government created the gacaca – or “grass” in the country’s official language of Kinyarwanda – court system to tackle this enormous problem. Based on a traditional form of community dispute resolution, the gacaca courts functioned for ten years – until 2012.

Despite receiving much international attention at their outset, little is known about what the courts actually accomplished. This is surprising. For the past three years, I have been analyzing court data and conducting research in Rwanda to better understand this unique legal system whose punishments for the “genocidaires” (or those involved in the genocide) would likely be seen as light in many other countries. » More

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