Transitional justice lessons for Syria

Question

Which particular lessons can be drawn from transitional justice in the Arab world and might be useful for the conflict in Syria? What is the impact of the sectarian nature of a conflict for transitional justice? What are the opportunities and limitations of an international actor and donor, such as the EU in transitional justice? Which elements of transitional justice pose a concrete risk to the post-conflict stabilization process and how can this be avoided?

Summary

Literature on transitional justice (TJ) experiences in the Arab world is limited, but there is some emerging analysis.

This report found the literature highlights factors common in the region that have implications for TJ processes. These include:

  • weak state legitimacy and capacity;
  • decades of authoritarian rule and deep societal divisions;
  • deep-seated socio-economic inequalities;
  • the recent wave of political transitions and, in some countries, rising Islamist powers; and
  • historical-cultural frameworks with context-specific interpretations of peace and justice.

The literature also identifies some key lessons from TJ experiences in the Arab world. These include:

  • the importance of prioritising the local, and understanding cultural sensitivities and practices;
  • the mixed, often negative, impact of limited TJ;
  • the risk of victor’s justice and political purges;
  • the challenges of establishing effective criminal justice;
  • the importance of meeting the needs of groups of victims; and
  • widening the concept of TJ to address socio-economic rights.

Other lessons include taking into consideration the impact of sectarian conflicts that accentuate divides in communities, requiring TJ processes to be balanced and inclusive. There are also lessons on the opportunities and limitations of international actors in TJ. International actors can provide financial, logistical and technical support, but challenges include the distrust of international motives.

 

(Report revised in February 2014)

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