magnify
Home Posts tagged "Truth & Reconciliation Commisions; Transitional Justice"

Post-Truth and International Criminal Tribunals

Published on February 20, 2017        Author: 

With all the daily going-ons of our new era of resurgent populist nationalism, it’s no wonder that concepts such as ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ are so very much en vogue, or that Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian classics are once more hitting the best-seller lists. But the sad truth is that there’s nothing really new about ‘post-truth’, except that it is today afflicting developed, democratic societies that until now did not experience the phenomenon, or at least did not experience it in full force.

Trump photographed at Mar a Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the news of North Korean missile launch. Photograph: Erika Bain. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/13/mar-a-lago-north-korea-missile-crisis-trump-national-security#img-2

Nor did post-truth start in these societies just out of the blue – it was preceded by decades of democratic de-norming, institutional erosion, increasing polarization and identity politics (think, for example, of how climate change became a point of polarized partisan politics in the US, or of the distorting power and influence of the (mainly right-wing) tabloid press in the UK).

Even in democracies politicians are not a species generally known for its love of the truth. It is no wonder then that in a favourable climate a sub-species of particularly cynical manipulators who are either ready to routinely lie outright or are just simply indifferent to the truth will emerge. Coupled with the natural inclination of the human mind to evaluate evidence in a biased way and to reason about it in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs and protects one’s sense of identity, in much (most?) of the world post-truth politics are the rule, rather than the exception. Trump may be the most important exponent of the current wave of mendacious populism, but he is hardly avant-garde. For decades now, for example, many of the Balkan states have experienced their own ego-maniacal, soft-authoritarian mini-Trumps, and let’s not even mention all of the Putins, Dutertes and Erdogans out there.

Which brings me to my point. Post-truth and alternative facts have historically been perfectly standard when it comes to inter-group conflicts, especially in societies which are not genuinely pluralist. Pick any random group conflict in the world, and you are likely to find that each group lives and breaths its own particular truth. In our international legal community, many have thought that it is the role of international criminal courts and tribunals to generate the ‘real’ truths that will eventually garner acceptance in societies riven by conflict. Unfortunately, however, there is little evidence that such truth-generating potential is anything but theoretical.

Read the rest of this entry…

 

Understanding the ICTY’s Impact in the Former Yugoslavia

Published on April 11, 2016        Author: 

As a follow-up to the ICTY extravaganza we’ve had on the blog in the past few weeks, I wanted to post about two companion articles I recently put on SSRN that readers might find of interest. The first is ‘The Impact of the ICTY on the Former Yugoslavia: An Anticipatory Post-Mortem’, and it is forthcoming in the American Journal of International Law; the second is ‘Establishing the Facts About Mass Atrocities: Accounting for the Failure of the ICTY to Persuade Target Audiences,’ and it will be published in the Georgetown Journal of International Law.

The AJIL piece looks at whether the ICTY managed to persuade target populations that the findings in its judgments are true. To answer that question, foundational for transitional justice processes, the article discusses the findings of a series of public opinion surveys in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia (designed by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, sponsored by the OSCE and conducted by Ipsos – detailed charts, mostly in Serbo-Croatian but some in English, are available here) and Kosovo (sponsored by the UNDP and conducted by a local polling agency, here and here).

The detail and amount of data obtained through these surveys provide an unprecedented level of insight into the reception of factual determinations by international criminal tribunals by target audiences. The surveys show that denialism and revisionism are rampant in the former Yugoslavia. For example, twenty years on, barely one-fifth of the Bosnian Serb population believe that any crime (let alone genocide) happened in Srebrenica, while two-fifths say that they never even heard of any such crime. The acceptance levels for many other serious crimes are in the single digits. They also demonstrate a strong relationship between the respondents’ ethnicity, their perception of the ICTY’s bias against members of their own group, and their distrust in the ICTY and in its findings, which increases the more the ICTY challenges the group’s dominant internal narratives.

Survey findings

This is, for example, how divided realities look like in today’s Bosnia (BiH Muslim/Croat Federation results on top; Republika Srpska at the bottom) – note that these are some of the most serious crimes committed in the Bosnian conflict, all of them addressed in major ICTY cases:

image001

Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Report of the Brazilian Truth Commission: Late Truth without Justice?

Published on January 19, 2015        Author: 

On 10 December 2014, almost 30 years after the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985) had come to an end, the “National Truth Commission” (“Comissão Nacional da Verdade”, CNV), established on 18 November 2011, presented its Final Report following an investigation that lasted two years and seven months (from May 2012 to December 2014). The Report comprises three volumes with a total of 4400 pages. The CNV consisted of seven members (“Conselheiros”)*, who were supported by over 200 research staff. The Report describes the human rights violations committed between 1946 and 1985 in great detail, listing both perpetrators and victims. The third section of the first volume of the report lists as the four most important violations of human rights: (1) unlawful and arbitrary detentions; (2) systematic torture using physical and psychological methods (proven for at least 1843 of an estimated total of over 20,000 victims) as well as rape and sexual assault; (3) summary, arbitrary and extrajudicial executions or other forms of state murder; (4) enforced disappearance and concealment of the victims’ bodies. The report ends with 29 recommendations and four conclusions which are translated into English for the first time with this post (see appendix below). This post provides an brief overview of the report as well as an evaluation of the work of the CNV. On the whole, the report constitutes a laudable, albeit limited effort to cope with Brazil’s dictatorial past and it may hopefully contribute to changing the still dominant authoritarian mentality in the country and strengthen its democratic institutions. 

Overview

The first volume of the Report has 18 chapters and was written jointly by all members. Here the CNV provides a detailed description of those human rights violations considered to be particularly significant due to their cruelty; these were committed mainly between 1964 and 1985 under the rule of the military junta who had carried out the 1964 coup d’état. The CNV describes the dictatorship’s functioning and bureaucratic structure, including its many repressive agencies (and the various police services (“Polícia Civil, Militar e Federal”), which made the systematic commission of human rights violations possible in the first place. Apart from the extremely powerful national secret service (“Serviço Nacional de Informação”, SNI), which reported directly to the president, each ministry had its own secret service. The Commission also details the close cooperation between the militaries of the Cono Sur (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay) as part of so-called Operation Condor and the training of the Brazilian military by foreign agencies, particularly by the “United States Army School of the Americas”.

The second volume contains Commission members’ individual contributions on human rights violations against particular groups and institutions (including members of the military (!), workers, farmers, the Church, indigenous peoples, universities, homosexuals) and on business people’s collaboration with the dictatorship. Read the rest of this entry…