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Victim participation in transitional justice mechanisms: Real power or empty ritual?

April 12, 2014

Without doubt, victim participation has changed the way that policymakers and practitioners conceive of TJ. In its absence it is assumed that TJ will be detached from affected communities, will face difficulties in generating local ownership and grassroots impact, and will fail to address the grievances of the victims of serious crimes under international law. In his first report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (TJRNR) therefore refers to ‘meaningful participation’ of victims as a sine qua non for providing recognition, fostering trust and strengthening the rule of law as components of a ‘victim-centred approach’ to TJ (UN Doc. A/HRC/21/46). The report moreover recommends that, ‘None of the proclaimed goals [of TJ] can happen effectively with victims as the key without their meaningful participation.’ 

Nevertheless whilst the benefits of participation appear self-evident – victim participation having become an axiom of TJ – there is still little evidence to support many of the supposed benefits of participation or indeed to understand its full implications. For example, whereas a number of important empirical studies provide a fuller picture of participation in practice, these studies remain in the minority when compared to their theoretical or technical-legal counterparts. Added to this, the darker side of  participation, including potentially damaging consequences for victims, affected communities and TJ mechanisms, is under-explored. There is a real risk that without better comprehension of the dynamics of victim participation on the ground, this core component of TJ policymaking may become a hollow principle or an empty ritual. 

Download the full report.


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