Autocrats, the Arab Spring and the Impact of Transitional Justice

Egyptian Protestors on 8 February 2011. Credit: Ramy Raoof.

Political changes unleashed by the 2011 Arab Spring plunged the Middle East and North Africa into political turmoil resulting in domestic and international power realignments. These developments have witnessed the outbreak of armed conflict in Libya, Syria and Yemen, a failed transition in Egypt, and the violent suppression of popular protests in the Gulf. Yet, at the same time, Tunisia, has managed to successfully negotiate its transitional process. In his engaging lecture, one of the co-founders, Dr. Chris Lamont sought to answer the following questions: What explains these divergent outcomes? What role did transitional justice polices play in acting as a catalyst for success or failure? Drawing from his extensive fieldwork experience in many of these case studies, he discussed different context-specific transitional justice mechanisms. The tools to deal with post-conflict and post-authoritarian injustice have become increasingly professionalized, including criminal trials, truth commissions and practices of memorialization, among others. According to him, however, “at the same time, there remains little understanding of the impact of these measures upon transitional processes.” Current scholarship in the field ought to further explore these boundaries. One of the Summer School’s main objective consists  therefore of innovative and interactive research presentations, engaging students and lecturers.

Youth Movements, Alternative Spaces & Dealing with the Past

Graffiti near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.
Graffiti near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.

Transitional justice has long grappled with the challenges of traditional post-conflict and post-authoritarian mechanisms, such as war crimes trials or truth commissions. However, the role of youth in this processes is less clear. In his lecture, Dr. Arnaud Kurze, one of the school’s organizers, explored the creation of alternative transitional justice spaces in post-conflict contexts, particularly concentrating on the role of art and the impact of social movements to address human rights abuses. Drawing on the former Yugoslavia, post-Mubarak Egypt and post-authoritarian Tunisia, he scrutinizes the work of contemporary youth activists and artists to deal with the past and foster sociopolitical change. His research has taken him across the former Yugoslavia, Egypt and Tunisia, interviewing youth leaders and focusing on their performance-based campaigns. Drawing from different case studies and context, he argues that this performance activism has fueled the creation of a new spatiality of deliberation—so called strategic confrontation spaces—to contest the culture of impunity and challenge the politics of memory in post-authoritarian and post-conflict contexts. He recently published an article with the Oxford International Journal of Transitional Justice called “#WarCrimes #PostConflictJustice #Balkans: Youth, Performance Activism and the Politics of Memory”

Accountability in the Eye of International Actors

Dr. Mietek Boduszynski during a lecture.

Several high-caliber practitioners lectured on international justice as part of the program, including former US diplomat, Mietek Boduszynski, one of the school’s organizers, and Christian Axboe Nielsen, a former expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). One of the questions that was addressed during these sessions pertained to the sanction power of war crimes tribunals. In this context, Dr. Boduszynski explained that “International courts need friends. This is because they lack the independent enforcement authority needed to carry out their mission, which includes apprehending wanted war criminals.” Powerful actors in the international system are potential friends, but as states they also have other interests. Therein lies one reason that diplomacy and politics and diplomacy become important variables in the study of international criminal justice. Just look at the case of the ICC’s intervention in Libya! In addition, Iraq illustrates how transitional justice, if poorly implemented, can hurt the prospects for reconciliation and peace. The trial of Saddam Hussein and the process of de-Baathification were widely seen by Iraq’s Sunnis as acts of vengeance designed to marginalize them as a minority in the new Iraq. These feelings of marginalization among Iraq’s Sunnis no doubt contributed to the conditions which allowed the Islamic State to take root in Sunni areas of Iraq in 2014.

Summer School Kickoff

2016 Cres Summer School cohort.

The 2016 Cres Summer School on Transitional Justice and the Politics of Memory was kicked off by the city’s Vice Mayor, Jadranka Blatt, the Frane Petrić School Principal, Josip Pope and the program’s organizers, welcoming almost two dozens of international students hailing from across Europe, the United States and Eastern Europe. The Summer School’s themes are timely and crucial, echoing many of the current political issues in today’s world, including the political reshuffling in Croatia with upcoming elections later this fall and a relentless stream of migrants who flee violence and destruction in their home countries, such as Syria and Iraq. For almost two weeks, the Summer School will offer participants an opportunity to address and discuss themes ranging from human rights, war crimes trials, cultural memory and social movements, against the backdrop of contemporary case studies and high-caliber international scholars, practitioners and experts. In its fourth year, the Summer School is off to a great start providing an enriching educational experience in a conducive learning environment.