Diaspora communities often develop as a consequence of forced migration. The term ‘conflict-generated diaspora’ has been used to refer to those who fled as refugees. There has been limited consideration of the involvement of conflict-generated diasporas in transitional justice and reconciliation processes that seek to address the legacies of conflict.
This article aims to address this gap. Drawing on the concept of transnationalism, it explores the connections of diaspora groups to their home countries and to the conflicts they experienced. In particular, it examines the ways in which such groups have been involved in transitional justice and reconciliation processes and activities. These activities may emerge from diaspora mobilization or may be facilitated through host country, home country or transitional justice policies. The article argues that the involvement of the diaspora in such activities could contribute to alleviating commonly neglected traumas and divisions in diaspora communities. It could also result in more effective transitional justice outcomes, through greater inclusiveness and more comprehensive truth-telling, and progress in processes of reconciliation.
Key findings and policy implications:
- The focus on diasporas and violent conflict has primarily been on whether they exacerbate conflict dynamics in the home country and hinder peace processes or whether they can act as peacebuilders. It is necessary to look beyond the question of whether they are a ‘problem’ or a ‘resource’ to their home country and to explore whether and how their participation in transnational activities can benefit themselves as affected communities.
- While host country migration and integration policies may enable the resources and capacity for diasporas to participate in initiatives concerning the home country, this is not an automatic outcome. Although some members of the diaspora will mobilise to engage in transitional justice and peacebuilding, there are many others who are unlikely to get involved on their own initiative. In such cases, efforts could be made to reach out specifically to diaspora communities.
- Support for transitional justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding mechanisms by legislatures in the host country could contribute to an engaged diaspora. It is also necessary to explore how home country policies and transitional justice mechanisms themselves can address challenges and facilitate the effective participation of diaspora communities.
- While these efforts have been focused primarily on soliciting economic investments in the home country, they could also be oriented toward participation in transitional justice and reconciliation processes. In contrast, home governments that fail to reach out to diaspora communities, possibly because they view them as a threat or due to other preoccupations, can hinder the establishment of a relationship and cooperation between the diaspora and the home country.
- Outreach and awareness-raising activities targeted at diaspora communities should be incorporated into transitional justice mechanisms. Outreach to exiles by truth commissions in Chile, Argentina and Ecuador prompted them to engage in the process by giving testimonies at embassies and consulates in their host countries or returning to their home country to testify in person. The provision of small grants could help to facilitate travel to the home country to provide testimony to truth-telling initiatives and trials.
- Support for transitional justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding mechanisms from international organizations can also contribute to an engaged diaspora. The United Nations has reached out and coordinated with diaspora associations during peacebuilding stages, in recognition of the important role they can play in meeting the reconstruction and recovery needs of conflict affected home countries. In order to promote diaspora engagement, UNHCR and other international organizations involved with refugee and diaspora communities should view displaced persons as critical actors and stakeholders in transitional justice and reconciliation processes and move away from ad hoc approaches to their engagement to a more systematic approach.
- The engagement of the diaspora in transnational activities cannot be encouraged blindly, however. If a diaspora community is deeply divided and conflict-oriented, providing the space for members to influence the home country could be destabilizing. In order to engage in informed interventions, it is important to assess the conditions of diaspora communities. Efforts should be made to address those that remain divided and nationalistic. This could contribute not only to improving relationships among diasporas themselves, but also to their transformation into a potential source of peace for the home country.