Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel VI: Justice as a key to building peace

Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 12:00 PM

1. Ashley Greene: To Close the Violent Past: Uganda’s Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights

2. Eduardo Sanchez: Justice for children involved in the Sri Lankan armed conflict?

3. Lyusyena Kirakosyan and Max Stephenson, Jr.: Exploring theater as a tool for building peace and justice: The case of Serbia’s DAH Teatar

4. Saskia Nauenberg: Spreading the Truth: Truth commissions and the pursuit of restorative justice

Ashley Greene


Ashley Greene is completing a joint PhD in History and Peace Studies with a focus on comparative genocide and post-conflict transitions in twentieth century Africa at the University of Notre Dame and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.  She has a B.A. in History and Peace Studies from Whitworth University. Her current research examines official history curricula used in Ugandan secondary schools between 1962 and the present in order to better understand how changes in history education have reflected the national aspirations and challenges of Uganda’s political leaders as well as historical attempts to address past violence and atrocities.


To Close the Violent Past: Uganda’s Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights

This paper examines the 1986-1994 Ugandan Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights (CIVHR) and the political rhetoric surrounding its appointment in order to address the challenges and opportunities for restorative and retributive justice in post-conflict transitions from authoritarian to semi-authoritarian regimes.

On January 29, 1986, after a five-year civil war, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni opened his first presidential speech with the following words: “No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country.”  The politics of the country had been nothing short of disastrous for two decades.  Milton Obote (1966-1971; 1980-1985) and Idi Amin (1971-1979) had retained power through mass murder, torture, forced expulsions, and disappearances, costing the lives of approximately 800,000 Ugandans.  By the time Museveni’s National Resistance Army fought its way to Kampala, Uganda had experienced several interim presidents – all overthrown in under a year – a military council, and one highly contested presidential election. 

Four months after coming to power Museveni appointed the Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights.  For many Ugandans and international observers, the CIVHR represented an opportunity for Museveni to address past atrocities and prove his government’s commitment to improving Uganda’s atrocious human rights record.  However, the Commission faced numerous challenges including a lack of financial and institutional support from the Ugandan government, the continuation of civil war and human rights abuses in the north, and a simultaneous policy of amnesty for military perpetrators.  

Drawing on newspapers, published speeches, and CIVHR reports, this paper juxtaposes Museveni’s political rhetoric with the Commission’s successes and failures in order to address the challenges faced by truth commissions in non-democratic transitions.  Contrary to studies that look solely at transitions from authoritarian to democratic regimes, it explores the complex interaction between processes of nation building, political rhetoric, and the balance between retributive and restorative justice in semi-authoritarian states that continue to struggle with the violent legacies of the past.

The empirical work is based on three phases of research.  The first, conducted between May 15 and June 19, 2013, involved an examination of the CIVHR verbatim reports (contained in a 15-volume collection of over 1300 pages) and the informational pamphlet, Pearl of Blood, published by the Commission.  The second phase will be conducted between June 15 and August 18 in the UK and The Hague, The Netherlands.  It will include an examination of speeches and public statements made by Museveni, which are contained in several archival depositories in London and Oxford, as well as study of the literature surrounding transitional justice in comparative cases, done in The Hague.  The third stage will be conducted in Kampala and Entebbe, Uganda from August 30 to September 28.  It will involve research in the Ugandan National Archives and several depositories in Kampala, which house materials on the Commission’s procedures and formal report.  I will also speak with experts in the field of truth commissions, both in and outside of Uganda.  The input of such experts, which will include a former chair of the Legal Sub-Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will situation the Ugandan CIVHR in the broader context of truth and reconciliation efforts in Africa. 

Eduardo Sanchez


Eduardo Sanchez is currently a graduate student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies pursuing a master’s degree in Non-Proliferation and Terrorism Studies, as well as a Certificate in Conflict Resolution. He received his undergraduate degree in International Relations at Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City). His prior experience includes working as an advisor to the Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the Mexican Foreign Ministry, primarily in charge of United Nations affairs and international security. Between 2009 and 2010 he also served as junior advisor for UN Security Council affairs, specializing in international conflicts and Security Council subsidiary bodies. His research interests include non-state armed groups and children in armed conflict.


Justice for children involved in the Sri Lankan armed conflict?

Children participating in the Sri Lankan armed conflict faced a highly complex dynamic regarding their position within conflict parties, especially as most of them were recruited by force into non-state armed groups and paramilitaries. The total immersion into a world of violence, the deprivation of a “normal childhood”, the participation in widespread massacres, forced marriages, and persistent instances of sexual abuse only account for some of the issues that scarred these youths in the early stages of the development of their identities.

The traditional notions of justice are generally attached to the end of armed conflicts. However, in many cases children are officially released or escape well before the termination of armed hostilities. Ceasefire agreements and other processes associated with ending conflicts will normally be guided by the interests of the higher tiers of the negotiating parties and will barely acknowledge the severe disruptions caused in the lives of children, if at all.

Likewise, large numbers of children have not been entitled to voice their demands in the path to justice, especially those relating to accountability and in trying to recover a period of their lives that will be lost forever. The issue grows even more complex when considering that some of these issues have been silenced by third parties or deliberately repressed by the victims as a direct consequence of intense psychological distress or moral concerns.

Past experience has demonstrated the immense challenge that represents accomplishing an acceptable or minimum degree of justice in societies that have endured virulent conflict. Furthermore, children in armed conflict can become part of a group seeking justice as well as face demands of accountability for atrocious acts they were coerced into committing, complicating a clear-cut differentiation between victims and perpetrators.

While the international community has started to acknowledge the critical role of understanding the problematic of children in armed conflict, this important gap in the field of conflict resolution and justice pertaining to the specific needs of children translates into deficient measures in place to prevent the resurgence of or the development of new conflicts.

The proposed paper intends to explore the specific challenges to reaching justice for child soldiers in the Sri Lankan conflict, with a focus on providing a concise overview of the general international problematic and offer a number of recommendations for governments and international bodies involved with youths in different stages of armed conflict.

The empirical data will be collected through interviews with experts and conflict interveners involved with the Sri Lankan conflict.

Lyusyena Kirakosyan and Max Stephenson, Jr.


Lyusyena Kirakosyan (presenter) recently completed her Ph.D. in Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought at Virginia Tech. Her dissertation explored multiple perspectives regarding conceptions of justice for the disabled population in Brazil, from legislators and disability-related NGOs to individuals with impairments. Understanding disability and justice issues that affect this population can contribute to reducing social, economic, cultural and political disparities and diminishing the collective marginalization of the disabled in Brazilian society. During the past year, she has been engaged in collaborative research projects on arts and their role in peacebuilding under the auspices of the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech.

Max Stephenson, Jr. presently serves as Professor of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech and Director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance. He has published widely on civil society and governance concerns. His current research and teaching interests include NGOs and international development, peacebuilding, humanitarian relief, environmental justice and community change processes. He has published more than 40 articles and book chapters in a diverse array of journals and is the author, with Laura Zanotti, of Peacebuilding through Community-Based NGOs: Paradoxes and Possibilities, Sterling, Va.: Kumarian Press, 2012 and editor with Laura Zanotti of Building Walls and Dissolving Borders: The Challenges of Alterity, Community and Securitizing Space. Surrey, U.K.: Ashgate Publishers, 2013. 


Exploring theater as a tool for building peace and justice: The case of Serbia’s DAH Teatar

Cohen, Varea and Walker (2011) have argued that peace is not an absence of conflict, but instead the existence of conditions that allow communities to thrive (p.9). In their view, peacebuilding makes use of otherwise conflict-laden processes in efforts to secure positive change in how individuals make sense of the world around them. The use of arts-based approaches in peacebuilding began only relatively recently and research on the topic is sparse (Zelizer, 2004; Hawes, 2007). The types and purposes of arts-based activities related to peacebuilding can be quite diverse. However, Milošević (2011) has cautioned that the arts in times of conflict can be used not only for peacebuilding, healing or cultural resistance purposes, but may also, when misused, become a tool of destruction. Peacebuilding and artistic performance, which both have the power to affect epistemic-scale frames adopted by and shared among individuals, each may unleash what Lederach (2005) has called the “moral imagination,” a creative act of envisioning a better future while staying grounded in the troubled present. As a result, Lederach (2005) has also contended that peacebuilders should expect and seek to provide for the unexpected, a facility and aspiration more generally associated with the world of art and artists than with politics (p.38). Peacebuilding and artistry each may shape a community’s aspirations and conditions for conflict amelioration and shared understandings of justice.

This paper employs relevant scholarly literature, analyses of published interviews with DAH Teatar’s co-founder and artistic director and pieces written by her, as well as interviews conducted in 2013 with the DAH founding group to examine the conceptions of peace and justice that have underpinned the work of that Serbian artistic organization. The analysis is organized into four parts. We first sketch the social, political and cultural conditions in which Dijana Milešović and her colleagues established DAH. Second, the paper explores how the theater company’s productions and partnerships have helped its members explore the causes of recent widespread violence, intolerance and destruction in Serbian society. Third, the paper investigates the fundaments and implications of the company’s conceptions of peace and justice that have emerged in its work during the past two decades. The theater group’s projects have self-consciously sought to create a space in which Serbia’s citizens may contemplate and share their understandings, grief and memories of the nation’s experience in its nearly decade of war in the 1990s. The analysis concludes by considering whether the theater’s efforts are contributing to social healing and forgiveness in Serbia or may instead be reinforcing long-simmering animosities among the nation’s ethnic groups.

Saskia Nauenberg


Saskia Nauenberg is a sociology PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her research is focused on the global spread of truth commissions. In 2013, she worked with the International Peace and Security Institute to run a month-long symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. This brought together 40 leaders from around the world to examine political, legal, and social issues facing societies after conflict. From 2008 until 2010 she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga, where she co-founded an environmental NGO and led community development projects in a rural village of 400 people. Since beginning at UCLA in 2011, she has been awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Eugene-Cota Robles Fellowship, and the Karpf Peace Prize for her doctoral research.


Spreading the Truth: Truth commissions and the pursuit of restorative justice

Today nearly every country emerging from authoritarian rule or civil war considers establishing a truth commission (Hayner, 2010). Advocates contend that truth commissions provide restorative justice—centered on the needs of victims, survivors, and the community—as an alternative to retributive justice—in which perpetrators are punished by a court of law. However there is a lack of consensus on what restorative justice exactly means and entails (Johnstone & Van Ness, 2007). Though the idea of restorative justice has been central to the proliferation of commissions, little systematic investigation has examined how different truth commissions conceptualize the term. What types of restorative justice do truth commissions pursue? What precipitating factors influence which objectives are included in a truth commission’s founding charter? To answer these questions, I collected, coded, and analyzed 34 truth commission founding charters from October 2010 until May 2013. I conducted historical research on official documents promoting ‘best practices’ for truth commissions, and I compared the establishing factors of a commission with their written objectives. Drawing on world society theory, a sociological framework, this paper explains how norms and culture in the global environment influence the type of restorative justice a truth commission pursues.

My research shows that four rationalized myths about the type of restorative justice a truth commission can achieve have driven the spread of this institution. Rationalized myths are defined in world society theory as socially constructed logics that legitimate state institutions independent of their actual efficiency (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). My analysis reveals that truth commissions have increasingly been established because of the rationalized myths that: 1) truth telling will lead to reconciliation, 2) knowing how human rights violations occurred will prevent future violence, 3) establishing the truth is a form of justice, and 4) truth commission can produce a complete and objective account of the truth. While these outcomes are appealing, they are not a proven result of commissions. Instead, I argue that three channels of influence, regulative (the UN), normative (consulting NGOs), and cultural-cognitive (regional cultural frames) have shaped truth commission objectives.

Focusing on the two main rationalized myths, truth and reconciliation, I find that commissions advised by the UN are more likely to seek the complete truth, while commissions advised by consulting NGOs are more likely to emphasize reconciliation.  Region also influences which objectives a commission pursues; commissions in Africa are more closely linked to South Africa’s model of reconciliation, while commissions in the Americas tend to imitate Argentina’s model of the complete truth. These results demonstrate that truth commission objectives do not necessarily reflect propensities, such as the type of conflict that occurred or the political party establishing the institution. Instead, I highlight how rationalized myths in a global environment shape state practices. These findings help to explain the various ways that restorative justice has been conceptualized and used to justify the establishment of truth commissions.