Commentators caution Zim on transitional justice

An independent South African political commentator has cautioned against ignoring transitional justice issues while local human rights organizations intensify outreach campaigns to promote awareness.

“Transitional justice is about bridging the violent past with the present transition in order to create a peaceful future,” said Leon Hartwell, a South African independent political commentator.

“If you look at Zimbabwe’s most recent history, there have not been many public debates about transitional justice aside from the Johannesburg symposium in 2003.” Hartwell warned that, “the biggest mistake that Zimbabweans can make is to assume that an election, even if it is free and fair, will solve all your problems. If you don’t link these processes, it will be difficult to imagine that Zimbabwe will experience long-term stability.”

Hartwell and Shastry Njeru, Transitional Justice Program Officer at the Human Rights NGO Forum, co-facilitated a Food for Thought session on transitional justice at the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Eastgate auditorium on Tuesday. They discussed a recent report on transitional justice compiled by the Forum.

The report incorporates the views of 3,189 respondents (51 percent female) in 84 constituencies across the country. It revealed that 18 percent of respondents had encountered some form of violence. Of these respondents, 76 percent still feel bitter or struggle to cope with the violence. A large group (71 percent) of respondents said a transitional justice process should only cover the period from 2000 onwards.

Only 14 percent of respondents called for the prosecution of perpetrators, while the rest preferred compensation (49 percent), truth recovery (22 percent) and reparations (21 percent).

Respondents said churches (30 percent) and government (29 percent) could lead a transitional justice process, while only a small group of respondents wanted civil society (12 percent) and the Organ on National Healing (3 percent) to be in the driver’s seat.

“We are going to translate the report into local languages, produce fact sheets and other materials in accessible formats to motivate a discussion at all levels. We want a convergence in terms of understanding of what should be done so that we are informed rather than being told what to do,” said Njeru.

According to Njeru, the report is targeted at policy makers. He said that future surveys will look at specific gender and youth issues in relation to the transitional justice processes.

“At this level, this report is for policy makers because of the nature of its contents. We have gone through several phases of violence in the country,” said Njeru citing the pre-colonial, post independence and recent electoral periods in Zimbabwe.

“It is important that a debate about transitional justice takes place at all levels,” added Hartwell. “When the debates finally took off in South Africa, especially after our 1994 election, we had it in the media, in multiple languages, and in workshops that were held with different social groups.”

Transitional justice generally refers to a range of processes that states may use to address past human rights transgressions, including judicial and non-judicial approaches. It seeks recognition for the victims and to promote possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy. Hartwell concluded, “It is important for civil society to push the transitional debate. You can anticipate resistance and don’t expect to please everyone on what the final product will look like.”- ZimPAS© 2011.

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