TJDI Final Conference in Utrecht
22nd December 2015
On November 19-20, 2015 the Conference ‘Challenging Conventional Wisdom: Assessing the Impact of Transitional Justice Mechanisms on Democratic Institution-Building’ and the workshop ‘Assessing the Impact of Transitional Justice Mechanisms on Democratic Institution-building’ organized by the TJDI team, took place at Utrecht University.
The conference was comprised of four panel sessions, each led by one of the NWO-ORA team members, with two discussants per panel who provided comments to the central presentation. Valerie Arnould presented the methodological framework of the research project; the discussants for this session were Michelle Parlevliet and Katrien Klep. The preliminary findings on the relationship between Rule of Law and Transitional Justice were presented by Anja Mihr; the discussants for this session were Leigh Payne, Gábor Halmai. The session on pathways of impact of Transitional Justice on Security Forces presented by Chandra Sriram was commented by Albrecht Schnabel and Mie Roesdahl. Finally, Sandra Rios Oyola presented the preliminary results of the effects of Transitional Justice on Civic Participation with comments by Christopher Lamont and Pedro Carneiro Teixerense. In sum, in addition to the TJDI team, the conference included eight discussants who came from diverse backgrounds as practitioners and scholars in Human Rights, Law, Sociology, History, Anthropology, and Non-Governmental Organizations.
On November 20, the presenters the aforementioned discussants were joined by Nancy Adler (Amsterdam University) and Dion van der Berg (Pax for Peace) in a closed workshop. The workshop was focused on the policymaking implications of the preliminary findings of the project.
During the conference, members of the TJDI team presented some of the preliminary findings of the project and the analytical framework employed in the comparison of the eight countries studied (Brazil, Chile, Uganda, Sierra Leone, East Germany, Hungary, South Korea and Japan). The session on ‘Pathways of Impact’ discussed the research on (de)legitimation, empowerment and institutional reform, focusing on three dimensions of democratic institution building: security forces, rule of law and civic participation. Issues such as the comparison between developed/undeveloped countries, different forms of conflict and authoritarian regimes and different TJ implementation, were considered. The session also helped to enlighten the debate on international comparison of countries in regard to the relevance of the local contexts for understanding TJ processes.
The session on Rule of Law (RoL) was an opportunity to discuss some of the most significant findings that we have observed in the field through interviews with local experts and other stakeholders. Mihr discussed the consequences of amnesties and trials for Brazil and Germany, highlighting the comparison at an analytical level more than at a regional one. Although one of the main indicators of transformation of RoL in the project has been through observing judicial independence, the presentation also considered how TJ has influenced a transformation in legal culture through the construction of trust in democratic institutions. A rich conversation on political culture, accountability and impunity in relation to TJ, particularly trials and amnesties, followed.
The session on Security Forces (SF) examined the assumption of a causal relationship between removal as a result of a TJ mechanism (particularly trials and vetting) and democracy. Some of the cases compared during the presentation were the de-politicization of SF in Chile, the continuing militarization of the police in Brazil, and the lack of reform of SF in Uganda. Sriram argued that although the results regarding evidence of a direct relationship linking TJ to democratic security forces are so far inconclusive, the evidence points toward a change in the process of legitimation of SF. Comments on this session included expert and practitioner perspectives, which addressed some of the challenges in transforming SF, including structural, symbolic and political actions.
The session on civic participation examined empowerment as a pattern of influence by TJ mechanisms such as memorialization and commissions of inquiry. It observed how the recognition and inclusion of previously marginalized groups such as victims, is transformed by TJ and can be conducive to civic participation. Panelists in this session discussed among other issues, the political character of victim identification processes, the challenge in disentangling different representations in the construction of multiple democratic narratives, and the relationship between memory and history.
The conference concluded with comments from the TJDI co-directors and members, and the advisory board members present. The model of analysis presented in the project helps to answer some of the questions framed in regard to the impact of TJ on democracy but probably creates new questions, new ways to assess and identify patterns in TJ.
 See program for full information about participants.