Peter J. Dixon
Reparations are among the most tangible, victim-centric, and personal of processes in the transition from violence to peace, symbolizing the recognition that an individual has been harmed and has rights in the eyes of the state or international community. Reparations are also an inherently political project, transforming official visions of violence, responsibility, and victimization into material and psychological benefit. Despite the power of reparations to shape transitions from violence to peace, they have been too often ignored in practice, leaving most victims of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law without reparation. Partly as a consequence, research has tended to focus more on “harder” processes, like trials and truth commissions, than on the “stepchild of postconflict justice.” Yet, there have been significant developments in reparations theory and practice that motivate key outstanding questions for researchers.
Reparations derive their symbolic power from the law, which is an imperfect tool for responding to the varied forms of violence experienced in conflict and to the diverse, sometimes contradictory, priorities and needs that people hold. In such contexts, there is an inherent tension between expanding reparations programs to be inclusive and adaptable and preserving their fundamental distinction as a justice process. This is a difficult balance to strike, but there are frameworks and questions that can offer useful guidance. In particular, the lenses of economic violence and positive peace are useful for articulating the role of reparations in postconflict transitions, offering conceptual expansion beyond transitional justice’s traditional concern for political violence without delving too far into the customary terrain of development or postconflict reconstruction.
Yet, the specific mechanisms through which the inward and outward feelings and attitudes and broader social changes that reparations are expected to produce remain undertheorized in transitional justice scholarship, in large part because of a lack of empirical evidence about how recipients experience them in practice. Does the restoration of civic trust, for example, depend upon recipients of individual reparations telling their neighbors about their payments? Does recognition as a citizen depend upon a beneficiary publicly self-identifying as a victim? Questions like these about the particular variables that drive reparations outcomes represent the next frontier for transitional justice researchers interested in the role of reparations in the transition from violence to peace.
Cyanne E. Loyle
Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing.
Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles.
As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power).
Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.