Monday, 30 June 2008

Panel 3: The Role of Transitional Justice in Addressing Crimes of Sexual Violence

The second afternoon session, examining the response of transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions, trials and reparations to sexual violence was as depressing as it was informative. The three speakers brought experiential, methodological and geographic diversity to their papers, but the recurring theme was the immense difficulty of responding adequately to the psycho-social trauma of mass rape in the post-conflict environment.
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin focussed her discussion of truth, DDR and reparation mechanisms, but concentrated mainly on the limits of our understandings of harm. She argued that the exclusionary emphasis on sexual violence fails to fully understand the problem of women’s experiences in conflict situations. She used an examination of the afore-mentioned mechanisms to illustrate the gap between what women cite as harms and those that Truth Commissions and courts say are harms. Prof. Ni Aoláin also referred to the consistent criticism of transitional justice that it replicates the centuries-old division between the public and private sphere, reflecting make fears of violation over those suffered by many women. Similarly, the emphasis of transitional mechanisms on primary harms instead of secondary harms marginalises the experience of women who experience the latter in the same way as the former.
Professor Penny Andrews spoke of her extensive experience of transitional justice in South Africa, prefacing her remarks with the sobering observation that sexual violence rates have reached “epidemic” levels after 1994. Though international law has had a major impact on legal development in the State, it has not translated into protections for women bar in some encouraging isolated cases highlighted by the speaker. As Prof. Andrews pointed out, “a legal edifice can be in place but it doesn’t addresses attitudes”. A theme running through the three speaker’s comments was the inadequacy of transitional justice to respond to “ordinary” rape and the need for multi-faceted approaches. Prof. Andrews’ brief treatment of the Jacob Zuma case and the racialisation of gender-based violence shows how far justice and freedom in the private sphere are from the ostensible freedom in the constitution and state structures.
Judge Teresa Doherty, currently sitting in the Special Court for Sierra Leone and formerly of the Papua New Guinea Magistrate, High and Supreme Courts brought her experience in these courts to illustrate the difficulties of trial-based responses to gender-based violence. As presiding Judge in the AFRC trial, she has been responsible for crafting original jurisprudence on the crimes of forced marriage and sexual slavery. Prosecutions for rape and sexual violence remain all too rare so it was comforting to hear of this progress. Nonetheless, Judge Doherty’s references to trial of gender-based violence and sexual slavery in Papua New Guinea were once more sobering, capped by a tragicomic tale of a man who beat his wife to death who came before her court unable to understand that domestic chores might be subject to division between man and wife. In concurrence with her two preceding speakers, Judge Doherty stressed the necessity of education, and incontestable argument in light of the three discussions.

Summary provided by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Pádraig McAuliffe.

Labels: , , , , , ,