Transitional Justice for Sustainable Peace and Prosperity

There is nothing more distressing than first-hand experience of armed conflict as a victim. I have seen people living through brutal war and later recovering from the trauma with an expectation of justice and harmony through the transitional justice arrangement. I grew up in Nepal during the Maoist insurgency and witnessed post-conflict transitional politics and the complexities of the transitional justice process. Nepali people have yet to see the conclusion of the process of truth seeking and reconciliation that transitional justice usually involves. Is this the case also with Peru?

Nepal ended the decade-long Maoist conflict through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006 and concluded the peace process by integrating Maoist combatants into the state army and Nepali society in 2011-12 and by writing a new constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly in 2015. However, Nepali society still contains seeds of conflict because the process of transitional justice has not yet healed the wounds of war and addressed minority concerns.

My interest in Peru was to see if transitional justice could address issues and concerns of minorities there. The tradeoff between development and justice is also a concern for scholars of transitional justice.[1] My focus was to see to what extent Peru’s transitional justice paved the way for sustainable development with its three pillars of economic development, social justice, and environmental protection so that Peruvians could expect a sustainable peace.

In Lima, our group had an opportunity to discuss with Félix Reátegui, Director of Sociological Research at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights of La Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (IDEHPUCP), a sociologist and human rights activist who played an important role as Final Report Coordinator on Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) between 2001 and 2003. At IDEHPUCP our group viewed a documentary video on the war with the Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. This visually illustrated how devastating the war was and its impact and aftermath. I felt that those two decades were a particularly significant part of modern Peruvian history that had proved costly for the Peruvian people.

The Peruvian conflict was born out of inequality and social injustice – especially racism and extreme poverty – the victory of Cuban rebels, and Maoism-inspired local revolutionaries in the 1970s. The war occurred mainly in rural, sierra areas of Peru led by middle class, educated rebel leaders who inspired some poor farmers and laborers to join them. Grievances and mobilization are common to most of the conflicts in developing countries, including in Peru and Nepal. Grievances, usually raised by feelings of injustice, are used as opportunities for mobilization for a conflict. The only difference I observed between Nepal and Peru was that Nepali Maoists learned lessons from the earlier brutal ending of the Peruvian revolutionaries and thus agreed to end the war when they still had control over much of Nepal’s rural areas.

In Peru, feelings of injustice were ripe for political manipulation by some. Over time it got worse and gave birth to the Shining Path and MRTA, which devastated Peru during the 1980s and 1990s in the war with the also brutal Peruvian military. Injustice often occurs when the powerful are privileged over the powerless, and a lack of minority economic and social rights played a large role in the conflict.

Peru concluded the TRC committee process in 2003 with its nine-volume report consisting of 8000 pages, which involved 17,000 testimonies, 14 public hearings, and hundreds of archives. The report concluded that an estimated 70,000 people had been killed or disappeared, 54 percent by the Shining Path and 37 percent by the armed forces.[2] The TRC also confirmed that the war affected historically marginalized indigenous and rural people particularly heavily with huge social and psychological costs. I was touched by the narration, the brutal reality of innocent people caught between two sides in that violent war. Both the state and the rebels were found responsible for criminal human rights violations: massacres, kidnappings, forced disappearances, and sexual violence.

We might hope that a process of transitional justice could go some distance towards reconciliation in Peru. Mr. Reátegui was not entirely optimistic about the implementation of TRC recommendations and the overall outcomes of the transition process. I believe that it’s not a lack of resources, but a lack of political culture, combined with both a political failure to address the issues of marginalized people and corruption across all sectors of government that may be the main factors behind Peru’s continued stagnant development (as sustainable development) after almost two decades.

Three major aspects of sustainable development: economic development, social justice and inclusion, and environmental well-being should be addressed properly for effective transitional justice. As commonly practiced, transitional justice and the process of repairing post-conflict trauma should not involve a trade-off between justice and development.[3] Sustainable development may therefore offer some way out for transitional justice. In the process of sustainable development, civil society – including organizations of indigenous people and peasants – should have a role. I strongly agree that transitional justice cannot be effective in impoverished and devastated societies if the questions related to connection between development and transitional justice are not meaningfully addressed.[4] How should transitional justice have a more direct impact on reducing social and economic inequality/injustice? How can transitional justice be justice-with-development, not simply a trade-off between justice and development? How can transitional justice prevent the continuation of natural resource-based war economies and conflict-related environmental destruction in a post-conflict context? And, how can transitional justice effectively address the spiraling levels of criminal and social violence that may occur in post-conflict societies?

TRC/transitional justice often focuses on prosecutions and institutional reforms and reparations. I am glad to know from Mr. Reátegui that those attempts have turned out quite well in Peru. Overall, transitional justice should be a way to bridge the gap of inequality at the root of the conflict and balance sustainable development with social justice for sustainable peace. Government, political parties, civil society, NGOs, INGOs, and local communities all have critical roles to play in this process.

[1] Rama Mani, “Dilemmas of Expanding Transitional Justice, or Forging the Nexus between Transitional Justice and Development”, The International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2 (2008): 253–265. https://academic.oup.com/ijtj/article/2/3/253/2356985/Dilemmas-of-Expanding-Transitional-Justice-or

[2] Lisa J. Laplante and Kimberly Theidon, 2007, “Truth with Consequences: Justice and Reparations in Post-Truth Commission Peru” Human Rights Quarterly, 29, p. 233

[3] Ram Mani, “Dilemmas…”,  p. 253.

[4] Ram Mani, “Dilemmas ..” p. 253-254.

– Rajendra Pandey

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