Seeking Justice, Achieving Peace

Alice Konig
Thursday 4 April 2024

In this presentation, Visualising Peace student Zoe Gudino discusses some of the research she has been doing into the relationship between post-conflict justice processes and peacebuilding. Via a series of case studies, she explores tensions between justice-seeking and reconciliation, while underlining the need for both justice and visibility in conflict resolution. She explores what we mean or want when we combine ‘truth’ and reconciliation, and discusses the amplification of indigenous and marginalised voices, including women. Below the video, you can find a summary of the publications she discusses. These are also available in our Visualising Peace Library.

Langer, Johannes. “Peace vs. Justice: The Perceived and Real Contradictions of Conflict Resolution and Human Rights.” Criterios 8, no. 1 (2015): 165–89.

This article discusses the debate between peace and justice. It addresses the fundamental question of whether putting peace before justice, or vice versa, is the most effective way to resolve conflicts and address human rights violations. The author argues that this dilemma arises during negotiations, when the fate of perpetrators becomes a critical issue. Two main options can happen: prosecuting perpetrators through criminal justice systems or granting varying degrees of amnesty to facilitate peace negotiations. This dillema highlights the tension between achieving justice for victims orensuring peace for the wider population. 

Ten case studies from both Africa and Europe are presented to illustrate the impact of justice mechanisms in post-conflict societies. These studies highlight the complexities and challenges of prioritising justice, as well as the effects of intervening institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), which include political implications, limitations of transitional justice mechanisms, and the potential to undermine peace talks. Furthermore, the article delves into the opposing perspectives of human rights advocates and conflict resolution practitioners as another way to frame the peace versus justice debate. Langer explains that, while both seek sustainable peace, their approaches differ, with human rights activists advocating for accountability and conflict resolution experts emphasising communication and mediation. 

Langer encourages readers to think of peace and justice as mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive. This can be accomplished by reflecting on how we define both of these concepts, in the sense that our understanding of peace should shift from ‘negative’ peace (the absence of violence) to ‘positive’ peace (social justice), and justice should be employed with more nuance, implementing methods that go beyond retribution and emphasise the importance of restoration. Similarly, closing the gap between human rights and conflict resolution necessitates increased awareness and collaboration between fields. The article concludes that understanding the interconnectedness of peace and justice is critical for successful conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts. 

Zavala Guillen, Anna. L. “Argentinian Transitional Justice Process: Women Behind.” Journal of Peace, Conflict & Development, no. 20 (2013).

Trigger Warning: This article and summary discusses sensitive topics like sexual and gender-based violence.

This article looks into the intersections of gender, justice, and peace in Argentina’s transitional justice processes, shedding light on the historical marginalisation of women’s voices in post-conflict justice mechanisms. The author gives context onArgentina’s military regime, which used tactics like forced disappearances and torture to target perceived ideological opponents. Women who deviated from traditional gender norms were among the regime’s perceived enemies. The author presents women’s testimonies that reveal perpetrators use of sexual violence, like rape, to exert control in clandestine detention centres. The article then focuses on the pervasive gender discrimination in the post-conflict transitional justice process, arguing that despite grassroots women’s organisations’ persistent advocacy for accountability and justice, cases of gender-based and sexual violence were frequently dismissed or stigmatised during formal legal proceedings. 

Ultimately, the article maintains that excluding women’s voices and experiences from transitional justice processes undermines the overarching goals of restoring peace, strengthening democracy, and advancing human rights. It emphasises the importance of greater recognition of the gendered effects of conflict, as well as a more inclusive approach to transitional justice that prioritises the voices and experiences of those who are frequently excluded from the dialogue. Failure to do so perpetuates a cycle of impunity and injustice, depriving women of their right to justice and keeping them marginalised in post-conflict societies. By questioning whose justice takes precedence and what notion of peace is pursued within justice mechanisms, the paper prompts critical reflection on the interplay between justice and peace in reconciliation efforts.

Destrooper, Tine, host. “How do we talk about truth in South Africa?”  Justice Visions (podcast). 2021.

In this podcast episode, Tine Destrooper discusses truth and truth-seeking in the context of transitional justice. She interviews Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet, about her experiences covering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa. The conversation begins with Krog’s personal involvement in covering the TRC hearings. She describes the commission’s impact on both victims and journalists, emphasising the trauma felt by everyone involved. Literature emerges as a major theme, with Krog discussing how she used poetry and fiction to convey the complexities of the TRC experience. She discusses her book, “Country of My Skull,” which combines factual and fictional elements to provide a more nuanced understanding of the truth. Krog contends that literature allows for a more in-depth exploration of trauma and truth, overcoming the limitations of traditional journalism.

Krog also emphasises the importance of acknowledging multiple perspectives, even if they differ from factual accuracy, because each person’s truth is valid based on their own experiences. In assessing the TRC’s success, Krog acknowledges its flaws while affirming its importance in South Africa’s transition to democracy. She specifically critically examines the relationship between truth and reconciliation, challenging the idea that truth always leads to reconciliation. Krog articulates her reservations about the efficacy of truth commissions in general, warning that they have the potential to become meaningless symbolic gestures devoid of substantive justice. In summary, this podcast questions the efficacy of truth commissions and emphasises the need for more comprehensive approaches to addressing historical injustices. Furthermore, the role of literature and other media in conveying truths that go beyond simple facts is also a major theme, highlighting  the value of storytelling and artistic expression in fostering understanding, empathy and peace. 

Martínez, Elisenda Calvet . “The Phenomenon of Enforced Disappearances in Transitions to Peace.” Peace in Progress Magazine. International Catalan Institute for Peace, May 2020.

Elisenda Calvet Martínez’s article explores the issue of enforced disappearances and how it should be addressed in transitional contexts. Martínez examines the global prevalence of enforced disappearances, from those resulting from ethnic cleansing and war crimes, to those caused by forced migrations. She emphasises how enforced disappearances constitute a continuous violation of fundamental human rights, perpetuating suffering and uncertainty, and emphasises the critical role of states in dealing with disappearances through a comprehensive approach that includes truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. She provides compelling examples of how peace agreements, such as the 1996 Dayton Agreement and the 2006 Peace Agreements in Nepal, have included mechanisms to address the issue of missing persons. Martínez advocates for state accountability in addressing enforced disappearances, emphasising the need for thorough investigations and prosecutions, but also argues that institutional frameworks alone are insufficient without the state’s genuine willingness to address underlying grievances and provide reparations. This online article emphasises the importance of a comprehensive approach that combines legal mechanisms with genuine efforts to recognise the suffering of victims and their families, thus promoting sustainable peace and protecting human rights for future generations.

Febres, Salomon Lerner . “Memory of Violence and Drama in Peru: The Experience of the Truth Commission and Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani – Violence and Dehumanization.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 14, no. 1 (2020): 232–41.

This article analyses the powerful role of the arts, particularly theatre, for post-conflict reconciliation, discussing thecollaboration between Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Yuyachkani, an indigenous theatre group. The author delves into the historical context of violence in Peru during the armed conflict from 1980 to 2000, which resulted in widespread human rights violations. He discusses the formation of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to investigate and shed light on the atrocities committed during this time. Notably, the commission revealed a systemic targeting of indigenous populations, and deep societal divisions which fueled violence. Yuyachkani (I am remembering), a theatre group, worked with the TRC to create performances that symbolically depicted the trauma and injustices endured by Peruvian society, particularly the indigenous community. The performances described, called “Untitled” and “Rosa Cuchillo,” used archetypal characters and symbolic narratives to engage audiences and tell stories about the conflict.

The article describes how the Yuyachkani group encouraged community participation in the reconciliation process by bringing theatre to public spaces. The interactive nature of the performances allowed audiences to confront and reflect onPeru’s painful historical realities while also envisioning ways to achieve healing and justice. Importantly, these performances told stories that would have otherwise not been heard and served as platforms for discussion and collective reflection, overall fostering a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility among audience members. In conclusion, the article demonstrates how artistic interventions, like theatre, may enhance traditional justice mechanisms by offering new avenues for truth-telling, memory preservation, and social change. Febres highlights that by harnessing the power of art, communities can navigate complex conflict narratives and progress towards a more just and peaceful future. 

This article is part of a special issue of the International Journal of Transitional Justice that focuses on creative approaches to transitional justice. For readers interested in learning about different creative methods that have been employed for conflict resolution, the issue contains a variety of other articles on the subject. Find them here:

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