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Special Issue 2016 - Call for Papers

Reconsidering Appropriate Responses to Victims of Conflict


The International Journal of Transitional Justice invites submissions for its 2016 special issue entitled ‘Reconsidering Appropriate Responses to Victims of Conflict' to be guest edited by Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, Washington College of Law.

Victims occupy a central place in transitional justice mechanisms and theories. Nevertheless their role, significance and even the concept of victim are subject to lively and ongoing debate and policy contestation.

Despite the fact that trials, truth commissions and alternative justice practices are often justified as being necessary forms of redress for victims, the purported beneficiaries are frequently disappointed by the design, implementation and outcomes of these efforts. Concerns include the lack of consultation in the decision to initiate transitional justice processes, institutional design questions such as the limited role assigned to victims in trials and in truth-seeking processes, the nature and location of trials, the constraints placed on truth commission mandates and capacities, and the inadequacy of existing modes of reparation.

Underlying these concerns is the sense that transitional justice processes may be driven by agendas that are unresponsive to or even at odds with the needs of victims. While they claim to be victim-centred, transitional justice mechanisms have often been viewed as external impositions that ride roughshod over community and individual needs and priorities. Western models, national politics and international legal frameworks are viewed as imposed agendas that only pay lip service to victims’ needs.

At the same time, an absolutely victim-driven process runs the risk of alienating other stakeholders and offering an easy claim to enemies of transitional justice that the process is fueled by revenge.

So what is and what should be the relationship between victims and transitional justice? This question lies at the centre of various efforts to conceptualize and design appropriate transitional justice interventions.

The 2016 special issue takes up the challenge to reconsider what transitional justice means for victims and what victims mean for transitional justice. This issue brings together voices of scholars, practitioners and victims to examine the record of transitional justice and to envision new possibilities for making it more relevant and responsive to victims.

Submissions are encouraged from a broad range of disciplines, methodologies and viewpoints. Manuscripts from transitional justice scholars and practitioners as well as those working in community-based settings with victims are welcome. Victim voices addressing the special issue topic in the form of essays or articles are also solicited.

We expect the issue to yield divergent views on central questions that will enrich our understanding and engagement with this critical topic. Below are some of the key questions we have identified; this list is illustrative and certainly does not exhaust the issues that deserve greater attention if the field is to address the challenges that victims pose to transitional justice praxis:

  • In contexts of mass violence or repression, how do we define victims? Who counts and who does the counting?
  • How can victims be agents rather than recipients of transitional justice?
  • Is ‘victim’ an appropriate term? What is the appropriate vocabulary to employ in describing those harmed or affected by violence and conflict?
  • What are the limits and trade-offs to a rights-based approach to victims? How does this contrast to other approaches?
  • What does victim-instigated justice look like? How does it relate to rule of law?
  • What evidence do we have about what victims want from transitional justice? What justice do they want? What transitions do they want?
  • What harms or injuries should count? Just violations of civil and political rights or should economic, social and cultural rights violations be included?
  • Individual or collective? What social unit should take priority in shaping reparations, redress or consultation in transitional justice policy more generally?
  • What room is there for special categories of victims, such as ethnic minorities, women, children or LGBTI persons? How best to implement a gender-sensitive design for transitional justice mechanisms?
  • Is the designation of victim for purposes of transitional justice a universal concept or is there room for culturally relative notions of victimhood?
  • How do we understand the dimension of victimization? How should the psychosocial dimensions of harm be addressed?
  • How should transitional justice mechanisms address the revictimization and retraumatization of those victims who participate in these processes?
  • How should we account for the blurred line between victims and perpetrators in accountability and redress policies?
  • How should transitional justice mechanisms address multiple groups of victims who experienced different harms and may have different demands?
  • How can victims benefit from legal pluralism in transitional justice mechanisms?
  • When does victimization end? Are there special vulnerabilities of victims that persist postconflict? How should these be addressed?

The deadline for submissions is 1 July 2015.

Papers should be submitted online from the IJTJ webpage at www.ijtj.oxfordjournals.org.

For questions or further information, please contact the Managing Editor at ijtj@csvr.org.za.