Question 1: When it comes to transitional justice efforts supported by your Office, what does a survivor-centered approach look like in your work?
Since I took office, I have advocated for a survivor-centered approach in prevention and response including in transitional justice which is a critical priority for my mandate. Everything begins with the experiences of the survivor. Each survivor experiences conflict in unique ways and can provide distinct perspectives on how best to confront the realities of her difficult past. In order to create solutions that benefit them, their voices must be heard.
Traumatized Yezidis women and girls I met in Iraq, demanded truth about the plight of their missing parents, relatives and friends in addition to justice and reparations for them and their children born of rape. Women and young girls in Maiduguri, Nigeria, released from the grips of Boko Haram, demanded access to livelihood support and education. Some women in Goma, DRC who had been rejected by families and communities, were skeptical about justice without reparations while others made a strong case regarding how their physical security was linked to their economic security and pleaded for the maintenance of a micro credit program.
While they all demand justice, survivors have multi-faceted needs that cannot be addressed by justice alone. From immediate needs, such as food and shelter, medical and psychosocial support, they have longer term needs including access to education, livelihoods, reparations, and institutional rebuilding that guarantees non-repetition.
A survivor -centered transitional justice process is precisely one that applies a human rights-based approach; that empowers the survivor by prioritizing her rights, needs and wishes, treats her with dignity and respect, promotes her recovery and reinforces her capacity to make decisions about possible interventions.
Justice is a process, not merely an outcome. In terms of transitional justice strategies, my office, through the TOE increasingly focus on strengthening national capacity to prosecute crimes of sexual violence and these include the provision of technical support in a range of areas: from legislative reform including victim and witness protection law to the establishment of mobile courts in remote areas to reach survivors; assisting military magistrates and specialized prosecution support cells; training of investigators, prosecutors, judges, security officials, lawyers, medical staff, social workers and other rule of law actors.
Through UN Action network, projects such as “one-stop shops” providing medical, psychosocial, legal services as well as livelihood support for survivors of sexual violence have been supported in many countries. Projects in support of victim assistance and gender-sensitive reparations have also been funded such as one in Iraq in 2019.Throughout the course of this project, the voices and needs of survivors were a guiding principle, just as they are in the daily work of my Office.
Question 2: What have been key successes and where have we seen the greatest progress as far as participation of women and survivors in transitional justice since the passage of UN Res. 1325?
To start with, it must be recognized that resolution 1325 has been reinforced by subsequent resolutions such as, 1888 (2009), 2122(2013) and 2467(2019). UNSCR 2122 recognized that more must be done to ensure that transitional justice measures address the full range of violations of women’s human rights, and the differentiated impacts on women and girls of these violations. Resolution 2467 recognizes the lack of support for women’s leadership roles in these settings as well as the insufficient financing for women, peace and security and calls for their full and meaningful participation at all stages of transitional justice processes, including in decision-making roles.
Even if transitional justice mechanisms have and continue to fail women by not adequately delivering justice and reparations for all harms suffered, there are a number of successes that need to be recalled. I would like to highlight the Havana peace process which establish a high standard for women’s inclusion in transitional justice. Women laid the groundwork for inclusion in advance of the peace talks, yielding significant gains for women in the final accords. There were three critical achievements:
Before the peace negotiations, ministries with transitional justice mandates, such as the Victims Unit and the Ministry of Justice, began implementing gender policies, adapting the earlier work of Colombian women’s CSOs.
During the peace negotiations, new commissions and rules – specifically, the innovative Gender Sub- Commission (GSC) and the de facto gender quota for the victims’ delegations – yielded concrete gains for women in the final accords.
The negotiations resulted in the first peace agreement to explicitly prohibit amnesty for crimes of sexual violence during conflict, setting a valuable precedent for future peace negotiations.
The case of Colombia sets a high benchmark for women’s participation and gender-responsive mechanisms. In addition to setting a precedent, the sexual violence provision reveals the potential to leverage international legal standards, such as those in the Rome Statute, to shape negotiated agreements. Finally, the Colombian case shows how the architecture of the peace process, and specifically the involvement of women and gender issues therein, can inform the transitional justice process that follows.
Even if there are many challenges when it comes to the implementation of such a comprehensive peace agreement, the case of Colombia shows how women’s strategies and the responsiveness and support of the authorities offer important lessons for building inclusive transitional justice around the world.
Closing Question: This month we are commemorating 20 years since the establishment of the WPS agenda, with landmark SC/RES 1325. Knowing what has been achieved over these past 20 years, and how much still needs to be done, where do you believe that the greatest potential lies? What is the one thing that you believe is achievable to ensure survivors are at the heart of transitional justice efforts in the next 5 years?
Listening to the powerful remarks of Ms. Escobar, I believe the greatest potential for advancing transitional justice lies in the leadership of survivors. Survivors of sexual violence have been stepping up and speaking out; asserting their rights to justice, accountability and redress. The survivor must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. National consultations can themselves be an important tool of empowerment, recognition and redress for survivors.
It is the responsibility of Member States, with the support of the United Nations, to ensure that these rights remain at the center of transitional justice processes. If we work together, we can ensure that transitional justice mechanisms – from Colombia to Iraq to the DRC – put the rights and dignity of survivors at the heart of the process, so that sexual violence and other grave crimes can be duly acknowledged and addressed with the aim of preventing their recurrence. My Office is fully committed to continue working closely with survivors, civil society organizations, national authorities and the international community to this end.
In one sentence what do you think governments can do to ensure that survivors are at the center of transitional justice efforts?
Survivors know best what their needs and priorities are. Governments must ensure they are meaningfully consulted in the design and delivery of justice processes and that they benefit from full and equal access to relief, recovery and reparations programmes, as part of efforts to end the vicious cycle of violence and impunity. That is how transitional justice becomes transformative justice.