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Transitional Justice Mechanisms: A Case Study of Sierra Leone and Mozambique

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Transitional Justice Mechanisms: A Case Study of Sierra Leone and Mozambique

Bianca De Bortoli

The emergence of transitional justice mechanisms in an attempt to respond to wartime violence, oppressive governmental regimes and genocide has provided important insight into the necessity of striking a balance between traditional symbolic and material reparations. Further, the significance of culture as evidenced within the Indigenous justice and healing practices of Mozambique have provided an opportunity to ‘fill the gaps’ often left by the temporal nature of truth commissions. This essay will compare and contrast the utilisation of transitional justice mechanisms in both Mozambique and Sierra Leone before outlining the importance of combining both judicial and non-judicial measures in order to achieve the best outcome for all those involved. 

The case of Sierra Leone provides a multiplatform for analysis. Sierra Leone remains unique due to the implementation of both a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. While this example demonstrates both the positive and negative impacts of the methods in question, it subsequently ‘raises crucial questions about setting precedents for future transitional justice mechanisms.’[i] The issue of cooperation between international and domestic judiciaries have often been perceived as a setback for the progress of judicial approaches. As such, Sierra Leone’s reduced role has meant that the Special Court for Sierra Leone has been perceived as ‘international’, thus raising questions regarding local relevance and risking local disengagement.[ii] The establishment of the Truth Commission in Sierra Leone[iii] raised valid questions about the temporary nature of transitional justice mechanisms. Highlighted by the case of Sierra Leone, the impermanent nature has seen locals frustrated by the limited time available to them.[iv] However, if designed and implemented successfully, Truth Commissions are able to foster not only a common understanding and acknowledgement of a country’s horrific past, but also establish a solid foundation for the construction of a durable peace.[v] The two-year Commission demonstrated the harsh reality of limited funds as well as a restricting timeline limiting its overall reach.[vi] However, despite issues surrounding TRCs, they have highlighted the necessity in embracing local considerations. Although it is important to acknowledge how local communities respond to public hearings, the use of traditional justice and healing mechanisms have provided opportunities for this method to be tested as the sole technique (as seen in Mozambique), as well as using it in conjunction with judicial procedures.

The use of traditional justice mechanisms in the case of Mozambique has been a great success.[vii] Often associated with the term ‘reconciliation,’ traditional methods of healing take various forms. Mozambique’s decision to opt for amnesia: resorting to traditional healing purification for both victims and perpetrators respectively, while reintegrating the perpetrator and healing him of war emphasises the importance of wellbeing intertwined with that of community.[viii] Frequently used as a means to address the difficulties faced in ‘harmonising formalistic approaches to transitional justice,’ traditional methods can re-establish and produce trust; a value often lacking in societies deeply divided by violence.[ix] This coupled with the ownership of such methods by local populations removes the issue of ‘external interference’ often present in countries that have encountered insensitivity towards local customs and cultures by external parties.[x] Indigenous forms of justice also serve to counter the ‘valorisation of truth-telling’ meaning that it attempts to counter ‘Western’ assumptions made about the alleged ‘universal benefits’ of verbally remembering violence.’[xi] However, it is important to note that the use of traditional methods may not always be appropriate.  The employment of Indigenous justice mechanisms also comes with the risk of political/governmental manipulation. Mozambique provides a rare example of inert tolerance, where in certain instances runs the risk of being wrongly used by the political and economic elite. This is further reiterated within Mozambique’s communal emphasis on ‘magamba’ spirits and healers.[xii] Critics use this example to highlight the reality that often in post-conflict environments, such post-war phenomena are likely to be used to justify elitist decisions for post-war amnesties, impunity and silence.[xiii] While the use of non-judicial methods of transitional justice are often met with much less animosity by rural and Indigenous communities, there is the need for formal at accountability in order to ensure that all aspects of post-conflict suffering are acknowledged and subsequently addressed.

The complexity surrounding transitional justice emphasises the challenges faced by both international and local communes. The question raised from implementing a singular method  (judicial vs. non-judicial) of transitional justice is simply whether it is adequate? Further, as demonstrated within the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SLTRC), there were issues around the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations that were never addressed due to the lack of judicial/legal influence. This not only creates further hostility towards the formal mechanisms, but also establishes an element of disillusionment due to discrepancies between community expectations and end results. Employing a holistic approach can better address the objectives of judicial and non-judicial forms of transitional justice: prosecution, truth, and reparations.

While mechanisms such as truth-commissions act as a ‘symbolic’ reparation through its recognition of victimhood, such terms need to be both defined and contextualised in order to minimise the likelihood of misinterpretation and disillusionment.  Methods of transitional justice used in isolation have a tendency to be disregarded as nothing more than words. As such, memorialisation becomes insincere without robust efforts; reparations are viewed as ‘blood money’ in an attempt to buy silence if no other transitional justice measures are employed; and reforming institutions becomes ineffective and unlikely to succeed without an attempt to satisfy victim’ expectations of justice, truth and reparation.[xiv] Despite the difficult nature of post-conflict environments, it is important to establish an interrelationship between the various methods without making it appear too vague or too complex.[xv]

As a result of many decades of advocacy and fighting for justice, it is clear that in order to achieve the best outcome, no mechanism can do so in isolation. By assessing the mechanisms before their implementation, there is a higher likelihood of success in addressing probable issues. Further, no mechanism is going to be successful without consulting the involved communities prior. Despite inevitable variations in communal structures and establishments, it is essential that the implementations of these mechanisms be done so in a consistent manner in order to ensure that these processes align with international human rights standards. It is through more recent cases of transitional justice that emphasise the necessity of tailoring each method accordingly in order to best address all those concerned. Further, as highlighted through the cases of Sierra Leone and Mozambique, continual reassessment is essential in order to prevent progress from going off-track, while keeping in sight the aims of: justice, peace and reconciliation.

Bibliography

Dougherty, Beth. K, “Searching for Answers: Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” African Studies Quarterly, Vol.8, 2004, p.44, Available at: www.africa.ufl.edu.asq/v8/v8i1a3.pdf

Hayner, Priscilla.B, “Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions.” Routledge: New York, 2011, p.59

Huyse, Luc, “Introduction: Tradition-based approaches in Peace-making, Transitional Justice, and Reconciliation” in ‘Traditional Justice and Reconciliation after Violent Conflict: Learning from African Experiences,’ International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, 2008, p.21

Igreja, Victor, “Multiple Temporalities in Indigenous Justice and Healing Practices in Mozambique,” The International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol.6, p.404

Igreja, Victor and Richters, Annemiek, “Gamba Spirits, gender relations, and healing in post-civil war Gorongosa, Mozambique,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.14, 2008, p.353, Available at: www.gorongosa.org/sites/default/files/research/062-igreja.pdf

Mobekk, Eirin, “Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Societies- Approaches to Reconciliation”, in “Post Conflict Societies- From Intervention to Sustainable Local Ownership”, ed. Ebnöther, Anja. H et al. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF): Geneva, 2005, p.285-287

Nkansah-Apori, Lydia, “Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Contexts: The Case of Sierra Leone’s Dual Accountability Mechanisms, ProQuest: Michigan, 2008, p. 342

Nowrojee, Binaifer, “Making the Invisible War Crime Visible: Post-Conflict Justice for Sierra Leone’s Rape Victims”, Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol.18, 2005, p.85.

Perriello, Tom and Wierda, Marieka, “The Special Court for Sierra Leone Under Scrutiny,” International Center for Transitional Justice, March, 2006, p.43

Shaw, Rosalind, “Rethinking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Lessons from Sierra Leone,” United States Institute of Peace, 2005, p.2, Available at: www.usip.org/sites/default/files/sr130.pdf

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act’ (Sierra Leone), Available at: http://www.usip.org/library/tc/doc/charters/tc_sierra_leone_02102000.html

United Nations, “What is Transitional Justice? A Backgrounder”, United Nations Peace-building, 2008, p3-5, Available at: www.un.org/en/peacebuilding/pdf/doc_wgll/justice_times_transition/26_02_2008_background_note.pdf

United States Institute of Peace, “Transitional justice: Information Handbook,” United States Institute of Peace, 2008, p.12, Accessed: 8th August, 2013, www.usip.org/sites/default/files/TRANSITIONAL%20JUSTICE%20formatted.pdf

End Notes

[i] Nowrojee, Binaifer, “Making the Invisible War Crime Visible: Post-Conflict Justice for Sierra Leone’s Rape Victims”, Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol.18, 2005, p.85.

[ii] Perriello, Tom and Wierda, Marieka, “The Special Court for Sierra Leone Under Scrutiny,” International Center for Transitional Justice, March, 2006, p.43

[iii] The Truth Commission in late 2002 until 2004 was based on the South African model. (Found in: ‘The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act’ (Sierra Leone), Available at: http://www.usip.org/library/tc/doc/charters/tc_sierra_leone_02102000.html

[iv] In the case of Sierra Leone, commissioners and locals were only exposed to the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SLTRC) for a week in each province. Found in: Dougherty, Beth. K, “Searching for Answers: Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” African Studies Quarterly, Vol.8, 2004, p.44, Available at: www.africa.ufl.edu.asq/v8/v8i1a3.pdf

[v] United States Institute of Peace, “Transitional justice: Information Handbook,” United States Institute of Peace, 2008, p.12, Accessed: 8th August, 2013, Available at: www.usip.org/sites/default/files/TRANSITIONAL%20JUSTICE%20formatted.pdf

[vi] Hayner, Priscilla.B, “Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions.” Routledge: New York, 2011, p.59

[vii] Mobekk, Eirin, “Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Societies- Approaches to Reconciliation”, in “Post Conflict Societies- From Intervention to Sustainable Local Ownership”, ed. Ebnöther, Anja. H et al. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF): Geneva, 2005, p.285-286

[viii] Nkansah-Apori, Lydia, “Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Contexts: The Case of Sierra Leone’s Dual Accountability Mechanisms, ProQuest: Michigan, 2008, p. 342

[ix] Igreja, Victor, “Multiple Temporalities in Indigenous Justice and Healing Practices in Mozambique,” The International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol.6, p.404

[x] Mobekk, Eirin, “Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Societies- Approaches to Reconciliation”, in “Post Conflict Societies- From Intervention to Sustainable Local Ownership”, ed. Ebnöther, Anja. H et al. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF): Geneva, 2005, p.287

[xi] This coupled with the presumption that Truth Commissions allow people to heal on an individual level raises the necessity of employing holistic methods. Found in: Shaw, Rosalind, “Rethinking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Lessons from Sierra Leone,” United States Institute of Peace, 2005, p.2, Available at: www.usip.org/sites/default/files/sr130.pdf

[xii] ‘Gamba’ or ‘Magamba’ (plural) play a significant role in Mozambique society. It is said that a war-related spirit overwhelmingly possesses women with personal and/or family histories of extreme suffering and with those on the father’s side who were allegedly involved in committing of offences during the civil war. The same afflicting spirit also heals various health problems, with its healing power in particular addressing perceived gender injustices that were aggravated through war-related gender politics, while more specifically helps society deal with the memories of the civil war.  Found in: Igreja, Victor and Richters, Annemiek, “Gamba Spirits, gender relations, and healing in post-civil war Gorongosa, Mozambique,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.14, 2008, p.353, Available at: www.gorongosa.org/sites/default/files/research/062-igreja.pdf

[xiii] Huyse, Luc, “Introduction: Tradition-based approaches in Peace-making, Transitional Justice, and Reconciliation” in ‘Traditional Justice and Reconciliation after Violent Conflict: Learning from African Experiences,’ International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, 2008, p.21

[xiv] United Nations, “What is Transitional Justice? A Backgrounder”, United Nations Peace-building, 2008, p3-5, Available at: www.un.org/en/peacebuilding/pdf/doc_wgll/justice_times_transition/26_02_2008_background_note.pdf

[xv] Ibid.

 

About the Author(s)

Bianca De Bortoli is a Graduate Student of Politics and European Union Studies from Monash University in Australia. She is currently working overseas providing psychosocial support to victims of human trafficking and torture while undertaking Graduate studies in Psychology.

Comments

Hammer999

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 12:48am

Justice... What is it really? For some it is an eye for eye, the feud and revenge. We do ourselves no favors when we try to impose a system of justice in other areas of the world. Further we complicate it by making a stink about how the LN in those countries deal with situations, when we think they have gone too far. There are areas of the world where they have never heard and will never care about the UN, the Geneva Convention etc.

Until we learn this nothing but failure will follow.