Transitional Justice Program

 

Transitional justice refers to the range of approaches that societies moving from repressive rule or armed conflict use to deal with legacy of human rights abuse as they progress towards peace, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for individual and collective rights. HHI’s transitional justice program has two main aims: first, to provide evidence that will make existing transitional justice instruments more effective in meeting the needs and expectations of victims; and second, to explore alternative approaches to transitional justice, which go beyond the concept of a toolkit, and allow for more innovative and flexible solutions. The new paradigm would depart from a “one size fits all” approach to provide solutions tailored for people’s specific needs, aspirations, and priorities. 

Approach

Most mechanisms of transitional justice address the gravest human rights abuses: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Various approaches toward transitional justice have been implemented in more than 90 countries, including South Africa, the states of the former Yugoslavia, East Timor, Iraq, Cambodia and Rwanda.

Traditionally, transitional justice has been viewed as a toolkit of different instruments that can be used to reckon with past abuses, including criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations, and institutional reforms. The toolkit approach presents serious shortcomings due to the unique experiences and needs of victims and communities in each transitional setting. HHI’s transitional justice program aims to depart from this approach by providing evidence that will make existing transitional justice instruments more effective in meeting the needs and expectations of victims; and by exploring alternative approaches to transitional justice, which go beyond the concept of a toolkit, and allow for more innovative and flexible solutions.

Over the last decade, our research team has employed social and epidemiologic methods of research to assess and represent vulnerable populations’ views in the decision making process in ongoing (Rwanda, Cambodia and Colombia) and post-conflict countries (Iraq, northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, and Central African Republic). The underlying assumption of our research is that policies best meet the needs of vulnerable populations when derived from unbiased research findings. Applying this type of research to a transitional justice framework, HHI’s Transitional Justice Program builds on this body of work to create a connection between humanitarian assistance and transitional justice, and identify alternative instruments that can respond to people’s priorities as they change over time. The program collaborates with others in the Harvard community and at other institutions to build a community of practice and maximize results. 

Projects

Evaluation of the Colombian Victims Unit

In partnership with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, HHI designed and carried out a household-level survey in December 2014 on key aspects of victims’ experience with the Colombian Victims’ Unit (Unidad para las Víctimas, or UV) reparations and assistance system and on victims’ perceptions on issues of trust in institutions, rule of law and recovery from the conflict. The survey found that while the Colombian reparation program is both admirable and ambitious, victims often do not have a full understanding of who receives reparations and through what process they are awarded. The lack of clarity undermines the overall effectiveness of the reparations program since recognition of victimhood is fundamental. Lastly, results show that the Victims Unit must strengthen its outreach and communication strategies and build victims’ confidence in the program in order to meet the high expectations set by victims. Phuong Pham, HHI’s lead researcher on the study, traveled to Colombia in August 2015 to present the findings in an in-person meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos along with fellow researchers from the Carr Center. 

Monitoring and Evaluation of Victim Participation at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

At the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the participation of victims has been seen as crucial to the successful prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet, little attention has been paid to the experience of victims as they participate in court proceedings.  HHI’s ongoing victim participation research offers a voice to the victims of mass crimes through a unique empirical research on their perspectives in international criminal tribunals.

Featured Publications

Searching for Lasting Peace

This report presents the results of a mixed-methods study conducted in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between November and December 2013, to assess the population’s perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about peace, security and justice. The study included a survey of 5,166 randomly selected adult residents, to provide results that are representative of the adult population of territories and major urban areas in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, and the district of Ituri.

Fragile Peace, Elusive Justice

This report presents the results of a mixed-methods study conducted in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to assess the population’s perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about security and justice. The study included a survey of 1,000 randomly selected adult residents, to provide results that are representative of the population of the city of Abidjan.

Team

Phuong Pham PhD, MPH
Director, Program on Evaluation and Implementation Science / Faculty
Director, Program on Peace and Human Rights Data / Faculty
Senior Research Program Coordinator, Evaluation and Implementation Science | Peacebuilding and Human Rights Data

*Brigham and Women's Hospital