Navigating the Complexities of Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Arab Spring Countries Syria and Yemen
Panel VI-13, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm
The Arab Spring brought about significant political and social change across
several countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. The wars that
followed have been marked by intense violence, social and political upheavals, and have caused devastating and ongoing humanitarian crises. The violations of domestic and international law include a range of international crimes which raise questions about post-conflict justice. The implementation of transitional justice measures in the aftermath of the conflicts has proven to be a complicated and challenging process, with no single blueprint for success.
This panel will explore the challenges and opportunities for transitional justice in
post-conflict Arab Spring countries, mainly Syria, Yemen and Sudan. It will bring together scholar-practitioners with experience in the field of transitional justice to examine the complex interplay of legal, political, social, and cultural factors that affect the possible shape and success of transitional justice mechanisms. The panelists will analyze the specific context of transitional justice in the region and examine the ways in which various actors, including civil society organizations, government institutions, and international bodies, have so far navigated the complexities of the transitional justice process.
The panel will focus on four key themes:
1. The role of civil society organizations in the implementation of transitional justice measures, and the challenges they face in a context of political instability, authoritarianism, and sectarianism.
2. The challenges of ensuring accountability for past crimes committed during conflicts, and the role of domestic and international courts in prosecuting perpetrators of violations.
3. The role of truth and reconciliation commissions in promoting societal healing and reconciliation, and the challenges they face in building trust and legitimacy with all stakeholders.
4. The potential of reparations and institutional reforms to address the root causes of conflict and promote long-term stability in post-conflict societies.
In 2011, Yemen experienced a political crisis marked by widespread protests and social unrest, fueled by economic and political grievances against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, a political solution was brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative agreement, which saw Saleh resign and he was granted immunity. The GCC initiative resulted in the formation of a transitional government and the National Dialogue Conference NDC in 2013. The NDC aimed addressing, underlying the causes of the conflict, promoting democratic reforms, and transitional justice and reconciliation. It was addressed in the NDC outcomes and reflected in the constitution draft in 2015. That was the first time Transitional justice was addressed and discussed in Yemen's history openly and comprehensively. Unfortunately, the transition was derailed by the outbreak of a civil war in 2014, leading to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political instability. The whole concept of transitional justice is still vague as to how to be achieved in Yemen.
However, this can lay down the foundation for future transitional justice in Yemen. Lessons should also be taken from the experience of immunity granted to former President Saleh and its impact on lasting peace in Yemen.
The presenter will address the ongoing modest attempts to explore the future for achieving transitional justice.
This paper suggests an account in the language of criminal law that merits the language for criminal accountability over the language of human rights, as a form of accountability, when prosecution is not possible. Calling for the prosecution of those most responsible for international crimes seems to be feasible after the war has ended, or at least when there is a vision for a political transition, but the war in Syria is ongoing and a vision for political transition remains elusive. The Syrian conflict has produced almost all kinds of heinous crimes, yet there is no clear political will to hold the alleged perpetrators of atrocity crimes accountable. At the same time, calls for criminal accountability in Syria, and discourse to achieve international criminal justice are taking place before the civil war ends. This paper relies on the expressive theory of punishment to assess the rationales of calls for criminal accountability during the ongoing conflict in Syria. Out of many rationales, the paper notes that calls for criminal accountability open the possibility of punishment and send a message of condemnation to perpetrators as well as a message of acknowledgment to victims. Furthermore, using the language of criminal accountability as a basis for the calls is stronger than using the language of human rights. The paper discusses the problem of standing to call those responsible for international crimes to account and proposes that our shared humanity provides the authority for such calls while also pointing out limitations of this approach.
The concept of transitional justice has gained increasing attention in recent years as a means of addressing the human rights violations and atrocities committed during periods of conflict or authoritarian rule. Transitional justice refers to the processes and mechanisms used to address past human rights violations and promote accountability, redress, and reconciliation in societies transitioning from conflict or authoritarian rule to peace and democracy. The paper will address the concept of transitional justice and the diverse international experiences and approaches to implementing it, insights into the challenges and opportunities of implementing transitional justice measures, and mechanisms used, including truth commissions, criminal prosecutions, and reparations, from international law perspectives. The paper will also explore the role of civil society in advancing transitional justice, including the contributions of human rights organizations, victim groups, and community-based initiatives. The paper will analyze the different ways that civil society actors have been involved in transitional justice processes and how their involvement can contribute to greater transparency, legitimacy, and inclusivity. Finally, the paper will reflect on the lessons learned from international experiences in transitional justice and identify potential strategies for advancing the field, and the role of international actors in supporting transitional justice processes in post-conflict Arabic countries, mainly Syria and Yemen.