Outreach

Outreach programming comprises a set of tools and strategies that transitional justice measures put in place to communicate with the affected communities in which they operate. They are devised to raise awareness and understanding of the aims and functioning of transitional justice processes and mechanisms (Ramírez-Barat, 2014). Careful public outreach, including a variety of targeted messages to all relevant groups, could contribute to public support for transitional justice efforts and state institutions (Arthur, 2009; Sancho, 2014). Outreach channels of communication include (see González & Varney, 2013; Ramírez-Barat, 2014):

  • Dissemination of information on the goals, structure and working procedures of the initiative. This could comprise printed, online and audiovisual media. Interaction with the community can be fostered through online resources, town hall-style meetings, fairs, radio programmes and cultural activities, such as theatre performances.
  • Promotion of open dialogue by transitional justice institutions beyond the initial dissemination of information phase.
  • Establishment of consultation channels with various stakeholders, allowing society, and victims’ groups in particular, the opportunity to have a say in the work of established transitional justice initiatives.
  • Openings for local participation (local governments, civil society and victims groups) in the design and implementation of transitional justice measures.

There is growing consensus that outreach is an essential component of any transitional justice process (Lambourne, 2010; Vinck & Pham, 2010). In the absence of effective outreach programming, there can often be a gap between the goals and actions of transitional justice mechanisms and the needs and perceptions of the society. Trials, truth commissions and other transitional justice mechanisms will be restricted in their effect on societies in transition if the public are not familiar with the processes and do not perceive them as fair or just.

In the case of BiH, for example, perceptions of ethnic bias in the indictments of the ICTY and War Crimes Chamber and lack of confidence in the institutions are prevalent. The absence of an active outreach programme and engagement with the press in the early years allowed politicians and local media to fill the void and shape the discourse with misinformation and biased criticisms (Cole, 2007; Ramji‐Nogales, 2010; Ahmetaševic & Matic, 2014). There have since been various attempts to improve outreach, but some of the damage has been irreparable (Ahmetaševic & Matic, 2014). Various commentators find that outreach efforts are still insufficient. Strategies to better communicate and engage with affected populations, such as regular press conferences and outreach visits to towns and cities, could help provide more comprehensive information and contribute to transparency (Garbett, 2012). Reaching out to groups that may be apathetic, hostile or simply unaware of the work of the War Crimes Chamber could also be beneficial. While the Court of BiH has been effective in bringing in, informing and engaging with audiences that are keen on interaction (victims’ groups, NGOs, academics), it has not developed any initiatives to reach out to groups that may be most sceptical of its work (Barbour, 2014).

Public awareness is necessary for the basic functioning of transitional justice mechanisms. Testimonies can be gathered only if affected communities are aware of and understand the existence of the tribunal or truth commission (Ramírez-Barat, 2014). Public awareness is also essential to build society’s trust in the transitional justice measure, to ensure the transparency of proceedings and to promote understanding of the institutions and perceptions of legitimacy (AIV & CAVV, 2009; Vinck & Pham, 2010; Ramírez-Barat, 2014). Special attention has been paid to explaining the legal process and emphasising that these transitional justice mechanisms are not aimed at any one group but rather seek individual accountability (Vinck & Pham, 2010). Outreach can also improve the legitimacy of measures by managing expectations of what these can and cannot achieve (Ramji-Nogales, 2010). In recent years, the aims of outreach activities have expanded beyond promoting transparency and awareness to include engagement and participation of affected communities (see prior sections on local ownership and participation).

There is insufficient empirical research to determine the most beneficial ways to reach out to communities in conflict‐affected societies. There is an assumption that developing proactive public information and outreach is sufficient to improve public awareness and knowledge; however, this may not be the case. A study evaluating the ICC’s outreach activities finds that popular mass media, such as radio and newspaper in Sub‐Saharan Africa, can reach large segments of the population. They find this insufficient, however, as key victim groups, such as women, are often information poor and do not have access to media (Vinck & Pham, 2010). Their sources of information are interpersonal communication channels. Strategies need to be developed and invested in to target hard‐to‐reach populations (Vinck & Pham, 2010). In some cases, civil society groups, which have closer links with and a deeper reach into victims’ communities than official institutions, can be important in facilitating outreach.

Children and youth are another group considered excluded from general communication channels and, as a result, from transitional justice processes. Specific outreach is thus necessary here. This has rarely been available, however, particularly given the low budgets generally for outreach (Ladisch & Ramírez-Barat, 2014). Online tools may offer opportunities to reach young people, inside and outside the classroom, through interactive websites and games. Social media strategies and tools also have implications for funding and staffing, however. If transitional justice institutions intend to include new media as part of their communications and outreach strategies, they need to invest adequately in staffing and infrastructure (Crittenden, 2014).

Outreach activities should also extend to future generations in order to have a longer‐term effect.

Transitional models and outreach should pay far greater attention to history education and the incorporation of the findings of transitional justice mechanisms in educational curricula (Cole, 2007). This has happened in very few countries. In South Africa, the TRC produced a complex and difficult-to-digest seven‐volume report, which was not accessible by the majority of the population. The TRC did not have any strategy to provide appropriate materials that could be used to teach about the Commission and its work in schools. In contrast, in Guatemala the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) produced accessible copies of its conclusions and recommendations to be printed in newspapers and placed in public libraries. School programmes have begun to incorporate teachings of the CEH findings (Cole, 2007).

Outreach activities targeted at diaspora communities should be incorporated into transitional justice mechanisms. Outreach to exiles by truth commissions in Argentina, Chile 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 (Haider, 2014).

For further discussion on children and youth, see the section on gender and youth. For further discussion on diaspora and transitional justice, see the section on diaspora, refugees and IDPs.

Tools and guidance