Dealing with the past: Considerations for Transitional Justice and setting up the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission


by Tony Reeler

RAU has just released two new reports about the ways in which the gross human rights violations of the past could be managed.

  •   RAU (2014), The Development of a National Transitional Justice Strategy. A P Reeler, Senior Researcher (RAU), & Njonjo Mue (Advocate of the High Court of Kenya). April 2014. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT;

  •   RAU 92014), Suggestions for setting up the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC. Governance Programme. April 2014, HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

There are a number of key conclusions that emerge from the consideration of a Transitional Justice process for Zimbabwe and the possible course of action that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission might adopt:

On Transitional Justice

Any strategy will have to consider four decades of violations in order that no section of Zimbabwe’s population is alienated. Four decades must be included if the victims’ perspective is to be taken seriously: no victim is more important than any other, and all deserve redress and rehabilitation.

A transitional justice process that brings healing and a deeply democratic society will need the whole scale involvement of the citizenry, and this will take time. In a country with such an unhappy history as Zimbabwe, haste may create more problems than it solves, given that there are multiple eras of violations and quite different views about the significance of each of these eras. For example, younger people feel little attachment to the violations of the pre-Independence period, and people from Matabeleland feel that the Gukurahundi has a greater significance for them than any other period.

It will be crucial that a “Transitional Justice Strategy”,and/or a “National Peace and Reconciliation Strategy”, are both truly “national” in character, and hence include a consideration of all human rights violations in the country’s history.

It cannot be claimed that there is any coherent view amongst Zimbabwean citizens about what form a transitional justice process should take, and many areas where significant segments of the population disagree on fundamental issues. This suggests that there is need for much wider public consultation about transitional justice before any comprehensive policy is put in place.

On the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate:

The provisions dealing with the NPRC, whilst adequate, will need to be fully fleshed out with the enabling legislation, and this will require great care in order to not restrict the Commission too unduly, nor to create a mandate that is impossible to implement

In a first phase suggested for the NPRC, the health service will be a critical partner, both in assisting the NPRC in understanding the scale and nature of the problems, and then in building into its existing services the services needed by victims and survivors.

It is suggested that the NPRC deals initially with two activities that are overlapping, and based on the view that NO transitional justice process can take place without very broad consultation with Zimbabwean citizens. Thus, two processes are suggested:

  •   A national “story-telling” exercise, and

  •   A national “healing” exercise.

A national “story-telling” exercise and a national “healing” exercise combined can have salutatory effects in bringing ordinary Zimbabweans together in sharing their understandings of what went wrong at any one time. Healing will be critical to the success of the initiative as “victims” transformed into “survivors” see the world very differently when healed, and the vision for reconciliation needs the imagination of “survivors” and not the anger of “victims”.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that there is little that has happened since 2003, when the 2004 International Symposium, Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe, made its recommendations for transitional justice in Zimbabwe that has made those recommendations inappropriate or dated. The point is that we can build on an enormous base for understanding as well as very clear views about what needs to be done. 

Download the full reports from our website:

The Development of a National Transitional Justice Strategy

*Suggestions for setting up the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission

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