Experts Advocate Transitional Justice for North East

The Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu has called for transitional justice as the best way of getting people to accept and forgive each other for the pains and grief occasioned by insurgency, Daily Trust reports.

While speaking on the occasion to mark Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary, where other experts warned the situation in the North East demands special attention following spiralling insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping, abduction and killings as well as the controversy over plans to reintegrate repentant Boko Haram members.

According Ojukwu, the only way we can live peacefully to rebuild the North East made up of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (the BAY) states is through transitional justice. 

Ojukwu said insurgency in the North East has subjected people to the worst forms of human rights violations in the history of Nigeria and has brought untold physical, emotional and psychological losses on the victims and their families. “There is a need to put an end to the senseless human rights violation,” he said.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, Adamawa State, Barr. Bello Hamman Diram, said “the way out of the predicament is to consider the victims first for any form of empowerment because they have been subjected to abject poverty by the Boko Haram. The insurgents have turned people into IDPs in their own country, and some of them are still on the run because they feel threatened by those who want to forcefully initiate them into terrorism.

The Chief Imam of Malkohi Juma’at Mosque, Malam Ibrahim Aliyu, on his part expressed optimism on the success of the transitional justice project in his community, saying their fears of accepting repentant Boko Haram members were allayed when they started leaving together in peace.

Speaking amidst sobs, Salatu (not real name) a victim of insurgency, narrated how she buried her daughter and husband who were both killed by Boko Haram members right in front of her.

What is Transitional Justice?

Transitional justice refers to the ways countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address large-scale or systematic human rights violations so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response.

Transitional justice is rooted in accountability and redress for victims. It recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings. Ignoring massive abuses is an easy way out but it destroys the values on which any decent society can be built. Transitional justice asks the most difficult questions imaginable about law and politics. By putting victims and their dignity first, it signals the way forward for a renewed commitment to make sure ordinary citizens are safe in their own countries – safe from the abuses of their own authorities and effectively protected from violations by others.

Mass atrocities and systematic abuses devastate societies and their legacy is likely to make conditions of the country fragile: Political and legal institutions like parliament, the judiciary, the police and the prosecution service may be weak, unstable, politicized, and under-resourced. The violations themselves will have severely damaged whatever confidence might have existed in the state to guarantee the rights and safety of citizens. And communities will often have been ripped asunder in the process and social or political organizations greatly weakened.

Finding legitimate responses to massive violations under these real constraints of scale and societal fragility is what defines transitional justice and distinguishes it from human rights promotion and defense in general.

The Aims of Transitional Justice

The aims of transitional justice will vary depending on the context but these features are constant: the recognition of the dignity of individuals, the redress and acknowledgment of violations, and the aim to prevent them from happening again.

Complementary aims may include:

  • Establishing accountable institutions and restoring confidence in them
  • Making access to justice a reality for the most vulnerable in society in the aftermath of violations
  • Ensuring that women and marginalized groups play an effective role in the pursuit of a just society
  • Respect for the rule of law
  • Facilitating peace processes and fostering durable resolution of conflicts
  • Establishing a basis to address the underlying causes of conflict and marginalization
  • Advancing the cause of reconciliation

“The aims of transitional justice will vary depending on the context but these features are constant: the recognition of the dignity of individuals, the redress and acknowledgment of violations; and the aim to prevent them happening again.”

What does transitional justice look like?

Because of the numbers of violations and context of societal fragility not every violation will be dealt with as it might be in normal times. Traditionally a great deal of emphasis has been put on four types of “approaches:”

  • Criminal prosecutions for at least the most responsible for the most serious crimes
  • Truth-seeking” (or fact-finding) processes into human rights violations by non-judicial bodies. These can be varied but often look not only at events, but their causes and impacts.
  • Reparations for human rights violations taking a variety of forms: individual, collective, material, and symbolic
  • Reform of laws and institutions, including the police, judiciary, military, and military intelligence

These different approaches should not be seen as alternatives for one another. For example, truth commissions are not a substitute for prosecutions. They try to do something different from prosecutions in offering a much broader level of acknowledgment and limiting the culture of denial. Likewise, reform of constitutions, laws, and institutions are not an alternative for other measures but aim directly at restoring confidence and preventing the recurrence of violations.

It is also important to think innovatively and creatively about these approaches and about other possibilities.

“Transitional justice is rooted in accountability and redress for victims. It recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings.”

For example, truth commissions and fact-finding commissions of inquiry have looked into issues of endemic corruption of prior regimes in a way that did not occur in similar bodies 20 years ago.

In some circumstances, it is possible to take significant steps through commissions and law reform initiatives to address deeper issues of marginalization. For example, law reform initiatives in Sierra Leone significantly improved the legal status of women in the early 2000s. An imaginative attempt in south Yemen to address massive land and property expropriation was cut short due to a resurgence in violence but indicates that even complex land issues can sometimes be addressed in transitional justice contexts.

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