Transitional Justice

Periods of conflict, repression or large-scale levels of violence often result in serious human rights violations. Transitional justice processes consist of mechanisms that facilitate the promotion of truth, access to justice, reparations and guarantee of non-recurrence. Originally, transitional justice mechanisms focused on post-authoritarian settings, but due to the new political contexts at the global level, these mechanisms have extended their focus to post-conflict and weakly institutionalized contexts.

UNDP has a development approach that seeks to address past grievances and prepare the foundation for a peaceful and sustainable future by supporting transitional justice mechanisms and engaging with national institutions and reform efforts to build capacities and enable stability and social cohesion at the local level. UNDP supports transitional justice mechanisms in various contexts by putting people at the center, through ensuring participatory processes and diverse inclusion, especially for those most vulnerable such as women, youth, indigenous populations, and LGBTQI individuals.

Western Balkans Regional War Crimes Project

UNDP, in the second year of implementation of its Regional War Crimes (RWC) project in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, continued addressing legacies of the conflicts in the Western Balkans and supporting peacebuilding, reconciliation, and social cohesion. The UNDP-facilitated cooperation of national prosecutors from the four countries, through UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, continued despite the pandemic’s challenges. It further contributed to reducing case backlogs, moving several stalled cases forward including some of the most sensitive and complex ones (e.g., case transfers from BiH to Serbia included cases against the highest-ranking accused processed so far in Serbia). The prosecutors improved coordination of investigations and started jointly identifying cases for mutual transfers, and their cross-border legal assistance accelerated. As an example, the filing requests for assistance sent from Serbia to BiH doubled and from Serbia to Croatia tripled compared to the previous years.

As part of its training series, UNDP trained 120 operatives from prosecution services and law enforcement in Bosnia and Herzegovina on cross-sectoral cooperation in analytical evidence gathering and exhumations. The capacities of the national judicial institutions to provide human rights-based and inclusive victim and witness support were enhanced. This support included providing video-conferencing equipment and workshops on cross-border cooperation for victim and witness support services that enabled more victim-sensitive cross-border hearings of victims and witnesses.

UNDP also trained more than 80 victim support officers, investigators, and others, including investigating conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), as part of a series of regional peer-to-peer meetings and trainings. This assistance promoted a holistic approach to supporting victims of war crimes, which included specifics of investigating CRSV crimes against men and boys for the first time in the Western Balkans. In addition, seven civil society organizations (CSOs) from the region developed and applied, with the project’s support, innovative models for helping victims, including victims of CRSV, access justice, receive psycho-social support, and get their voice heard in the media.

25 selected journalists continued to undergo training that will enhance their skills to report on war crimes trials and various aspects of transitional justice. The project also piloted and started a series of workshops to generate and empower new opinion leaders and agents of change to promote accountability and reconciliation, targeting students and young professionals (such as history researchers, political analysts, CSO activists).

“From Justice for the Past to Peace and Inclusion for the Future”: Lessons Learned from UNDP Policy and Practice.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes the interlinkages across peace and prosperity and full respect for human rights. Transitional justice is closely related to this focus, as it works at the nexus of human rights, development, and peace and security to address legacies of mass human rights violations and build resilient communities. Comprehensive transitional justice measures also contribute to specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as Goal 16 on promoting peace, justice and strong institutions, Goal 4 on ensuring equitable quality education and Goal 5 for achieving gender equality.

UNDP implements this holistic approach through its support to contexts with participatory processes, policy advice to governments and communities, capacity building for national stakeholders, and support to legal reforms. This work is done in close cooperation with partners such as the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), UN Women, International Center for Transitional Justice, UN peacekeeping missions, victim groups and local civil society organizations.

Through the report “From justice for the past to peace and inclusion for the future: A development approach to transitional justice”, UNDP showcases best practices, national cases, and good examples of alliances, making visible the work carried out in more than 15 contexts for more than ten years. The categories include participatory processes, reparations to victims, politically smart programming and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR).

Key lessons and recommendations are included for practitioners, with three key messages presented:

  1. Meaningful participation of victims is key:  as victims are not homogeneous in their experiences, knowing their needs and demands is essential to implement a coordinated approach to ensure adequate representation and support – throughout the entire process – in order to effectively repair their rights and dignity.
  2. Access to justice requires an integral approach: beyond the specific provision of reparations, the focus must concentrate in contributing to longer-term accountability. For this, transitional justice mechanisms – including DDR components- and the national justice systems must work in close relation to prosecute international crimes and at the same time strengthen national systems to build civic trust.
  3. Means for long-lasting peace: as transitional justice processes imply reforms in different areas, such as justice, security and housing, the programmes must be complemented by rule of law, development, security, and peacebuilding components to effectively support guarantees of non-repetition.

Finally, this report serves as a contribution to the revision of the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice.  It was launched under the “Development Dialogues” series with a view to inform the transitional justice programming based on an integral approach.