Workshop 7: Truth Recovery for Missing Persons in Times of Transition
A growing number of recently democratized countries are attempting to address their violent past, creating an urgent need to understand how to transform human rights issues into building blocks of reconciliation. Despite the fact that human rights have taken centre stage in the agenda of international politics, little empirical evidence has been provided to trace the precise relationship between dealing with human rights violations of the ancien régime and the prospects of peaceful democratic transition. And although enforced disappearances as a result of political violence have become an endemic feature of contemporary conflict globally, the study of the phenomenon and its relationship to transitional justice has not received much attention.
The workshop highlights the importance of comparing experiences of enforced disappearances in post-conflict and post-authoritarian settings to guide academic research and assist policy-makers dealing with similar problems.
The workshop aims to make an innovative contribution to the limited knowledge on the complex relationship between truth recovery for missing persons and peaceful democratic transitions. The primary objective of the workshop is to understand how to transform protracted human rights problems into stepping stones of reconciliation in times of transition. It also intends to elucidate the interplay between individual justice and social/political necessities of reconciliation. Participants are encouraged to submit proposals that would engage with the political, legal, social, psychological and anthropological dimensions related to truth recovery.
Truth recovery for missing persons in times of transitions
Does the accommodation of problems deriving from past human rights abuses in post-conflict and post-authoritarian settings enhance the prospect of a peaceful democratic transition? When international organizations negotiate the provisions of democratic transition in the aftermath of the recent uprisings in Maghreb and other recently democratized countries, should the violent legacy of the past be included in the agenda, and if so, how?
A specific problem, in this connection, is the one of enforced disappearances. Can the demands of the relatives of missing persons in societies as diverse as Lebanon, Georgia (Abkhazia), Libya, Chechnya, Spain, Turkey, Bosnia and Cyprus be accommodated without endangering the overarching objectives of political settlement, stability, and democratic consolidation? And how are these country situations compared between themselves? Cyprus, Bosnia and Spain have been considered successful examples of bringing closure to deep trauma by exhuming and identifying their missing persons under considerably different conditions. In other countries, truth recovery remains a pressing demand from large sectors of local societies. The workshop aims at bringing together experts from various disciplines to examine these questions and related themes.
A growing number of recently democratized countries are attempting to address their violent past, creating an urgent need to understand how to transform human rights issues into building blocks of reconciliation. It has been argued, on the one hand, that failure to address and redress past human rights abuses during transitions increases the risk of the recurrence of conflict because wounds left unattended tend to fester (Hayner 2002). On the other hand, critics insist that an effort to link sensitive questions of human rights to political negotiations increases the risk of a violent backlash, since the public acknowledgment of contentious aspects of the past has the potential to mobilize spoiler groups and derail peace/democratization processes (Snyder and Vinjamuri 2003).
Despite the fact that human rights have taken centre stage in the agenda of international politics, little empirical evidence has been provided to trace the precise relationship between dealing with human rights violations of the ancien régime and the prospects of peaceful democratic transition (Olsen et al 2010). And although enforced disappearances as a result of political violence have become an endemic feature of contemporary conflict globally, the study of the phenomenon and its relationship to transitional justice has not received much attention. According to the most recent report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) more than 80 countries have experienced cases of enforced disappearances. Still, little notice has been taken of the long-term political, legal, social, security and psychological risks associated with the (mis)management of the problem of enforced disappearances in societies emerging from conflict.
2. Research Questions
The workshop aims to make an innovative and important contribution to the limited knowledge on the complex relationship between truth recovery for missing persons and peaceful democratic transitions. It considers five interrelated and pressing questions:
(1) To what extent does truth recovery for missing persons increase the risk of instability in post-conflict settings?
(2) Under which conditions is it better to tie victims’ rights to an overall political settlement? Alternatively, should human rights issues be treated separately?
(3) How is the right to truth assessed in relation to amnesties for serious and gross human rights violations? What is the validity and role of amnesties as a transitional justice and legal tool?
(4) Why do certain societies defer the recovery of truth about past human rights abuses, even once the democratic regime has been fully consolidated?
(5) Under which circumstances a successful resolution of the problem of enforced disappearances can catalyse a transformation of relatives’ associations into platforms of grassroots reconciliation that mitigate the risk of conflict?
The workshop is placed within the scholarship on transitional justice, human rights law, democratization and conflict resolution studies and will seek to test a number of alternative hypotheses coming from these disciplines. Participants are particularly encouraged to examine whether a decision to tackle past human rights abuses triggers instability (Snyder and Vinjamuri 2003) or increases the prospect of a peaceful democratic transition (Minow 2002). Also, participants are requested to look at conflict resolution literature, scrutinizing competing arguments over the necessity to de-link particularly sensitive human rights issues from complex political negotiations (Bazerman and Neale 1993).
Drawing on social psychology, the workshop calls on participants to consider the extent to which the symbolic capital of the relatives of missing persons nurtures cultures of victimhood that become the basis for the perpetuation of violence (Smyth 2007). Similarly, the role of victims’ associations in post-conflict settings has been under-studied, failing to account for the unpredictable positions adopted by different relatives’ associations. While the ‘Mothers of the May Square’, in Argentina, deployed the problem of disappearances as a means to establish a comprehensive human rights culture based on the inclusive slogan ‘Never again’ (Nunca Mas), in Cyprus and Bosnia the official organizations of the relatives of missing had used their symbolic capital to advocate the ethnic monopoly of suffering. The workshop aspires to focus both on the ‘dark side’ of victims’ associations, frequently destabilizing transitions, while simultaneously it will investigate the occasional, yet puzzling, transformation of political elites, bureaucrats, and grassroots actors from sceptics to vocal proponents of the resolution of human rights issues.
The analysis highlights the importance of comparing experiences of enforced disappearances in post-conflict and post-authoritarian settings to guide academic research and assist policy-makers dealing with similar problems. This is important: a growing number of developed countries have started to establish mechanisms to address past human rights issues, as for example, the recent decision of the Turkish government to trace the whereabouts of disappeared Turkish citizens, while a similar debate is facing serious impediments in Spain due to the recent case against Judge Garzon.
At the same time, an advanced legal and normative framework related to the practice of enforced disappearances has been developed over the past decade, mainly through the adoption of the UN Convention for the protection of all persons against enforced disappearances and the Rome Convention for the International Criminal Court. These instruments render possible the prospect of indicting domestic leaders before national or international courts possible over the coming years, as the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan indicate. Meanwhile, families of missing or disappeared persons in zones of protracted conflict are still striving to locate their relatives and cope with prolonged distress. Therefore, there is an urgent need to investigate the complex relationship between the legal and political instruments currently deployed to accommodate the problem of enforced disappearances and their success in decreasing long-term political, social, security and psychological risks in societies emerging from conflict.
In sum, the problem of enforced disappearances constitutes a critical area of inquiry because of its potential to decrease the level of suffering in conflict zones and forestall the creation of cultures of victimhood that perpetuate violence. Therefore, the workshop will seek to explore the normative, social and political reasons why societies defer the recovery of truth for missing persons and second how they can transform sensitive human rights problems into lasting peace.
The deadline for the submission of paper proposals is 15 September 2012. Applications can only be submitted on-line through the electronic application form available at www.eui.eu/RSCAS/MRM2013. Participants are expected to submit the final version of their paper (approx. 8,500 words) no later than 15 February 2013. They will be invited to attend an international workshop inMersin, Turkey from 20-23 March 2013. Selected papers of the workshop will be published in an edited volume with an established academic press.