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Addressing the needs of families of the Missing: A test of contemporary approaches to transitional justice

Robins, Simon (2011) Addressing the needs of families of the Missing: A test of contemporary approaches to transitional justice. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to interrogate the current practice of transitional justice from the viewpoint of the victims of the violations that it seeks to address. The study challenges approaches to legacies of violence that are rooted solely in the human rights discourse and that emerge from national and international elites, remote from those most impacted by conflict. The needs of victims of one of the most serious and intractable violations, disappearance, are investigated in two contexts emerging from conflict, Nepal and Timor-Leste, and the impact of ongoing transitional justice process on those needs evaluated. The aim is to understand how a victim-centred transitional justice process can be constructed. Victims of conflict in both Nepal and Timor-Leste have little understanding of rights, articulating the needs, often the most basic, with which they are confronted on a daily basis. Whilst rights are the product of a discourse that claims to be global and universal, needs are necessarily local and particular, the product of culture and context. This drives the methodology of the study which is ethnographic, using qualitative research methods with families of the Missing. The research was conducted in a participatory way with Associations of Families of the Missing, with the aim of empowering victims’ organisations, and the results published in relevant languages in both contexts with the aim of impacting policy. The result of this engagement with more than 300 families of the Missing in the two states was a comprehensive understanding of the impact of disappearance. In contrast to the legalist orientation of the global transitional justice project victims do not see judicial process as a priority. Rather, they urgently seek an answer concerning the fate of the Missing and to retrieve human remains. The latter is motivated partly by traditional spiritual beliefs, particularly in Timor where the impact of malign spirits of the Missing is severe. As important are livelihood issues where families are struggling to cope with the loss of breadwinners and seek support to ensure economic security. In Nepal the social impact on wives of the Missing was extreme, with women stigmatised in family and community as a result of traditional patriarchy. In both contexts families sought recognition for both the Missing and themselves as victims, demanding a place in collective memory through memorials and other reparative process. The gap seen between the needs of victims and what transitional justice process has delivered is a result of the institutionalised and prescriptive approach the international community advances in all contexts, dominated by trials and truth commissions, that fail to resonate with the needs of victims remote from such institutions. Victims of violations require process that is rooted in the social and symbolic worlds in which they live and that accounts for the complex dynamics of post-conflict societies. They seek a transformative transitional justice that challenges the narrow agenda of political and ethnic elites and that resonates with the everyday experience of those most impacted by conflict. The study draws a map for the empowerment and mobilisation of victims of conflict to become actors in an emancipatory approach to legacies of violence.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Transitional Justice Disappearances Human rights Nepal Timor-Leste
Academic Units: The University of York > Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit (York)
Depositing User: Mr Simon Robins
Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2011 13:21
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:47
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1971

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