Announcing the Language, Culture and Justice Hub

The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life of Brandeis University is pleased to announce the launch of the Language, Culture and Justice Hub.

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 1.08.24 PMThis online platform was created to serve as a clearinghouse of scholarship, commentary and contacts for people working at the nexus of language, culture and justice. Its principal aim, stated on the About the Hub  page, is to centralize a dispersed set of fields engaged in work around this nexus of issues. The Hub is intended for practitioners as well as scholars and researchers.

The Hub currently features  recent news and commentary  relevant to language, culture and justice; a regular Spotlight feature that explores critical topics in this area; and thematic pages with extensive resources, the first of which focuses on language and culture in processes of international criminal justice. The site also offers profiles of the Hub’s inaugural members, whose professions range from interpreters and translators, to researchers and scholars, to activists on diverse topics. Other Hub features and activities will be explored in the coming months.

There are several ways that you can become part of the Language, Culture and Justice Hub:

  • Join a listserv to receive news and updates
  • Contribute a Spotlight feature on a relevant topic
  • Suggest resources and news items for the Hub
  • Become a full member with a profile page

Although the site language is English, we welcome profile pages, links to scholarship, and original commentary in any language.

We hope you will explore the Hub and provide feedback and suggestions. If you wish to join us, send an email to LCJHub@brandeis.edu.

Read On! "Faith, Gender, and Activism in the Punjab Conflict: The Wheat Fields Still Whisper"

Mallika Kaur‘s new book titled “Faith, Gender, and Activism in the Punjab Conflict: The Wheat Fields Still Whisper,” released in January of 2020, centers around the stories of people at the forefront of Punjab’s hazardous human rights movement. The protagonists are human rights defenders who challenged the violence that paralyzed most others who were in a position to intervene. During its deadliest decade, as many as 250,000 people were killed in Punjab. Feminist and gender studies scholars will be interested in the book’s excavation of varied and hybrid roles assumed by Punjabi Sikh women, their negotiation of trauma amidst multiple responsibilities, while defying the stereotypes of a monolithic identity. This book highlights the inadequacies in international human rights studies of ‘violence against women’ and ‘gender-based violence,’ as well as the marginalizations within certain areas of feminist studies. It shows how attention to various forms of gendered violence—direct violence against women or indirect violence due to violence against men in their community—is necessary to end vicious cycles of violence in conflict and post-conflict zones and bring inclusive security to Punjab, South Asia and beyond.

Read On! Women and Law

The Washington Post reported today that for the first time the editors of the journals of the top 16 law schools in the United States are all women! https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/for-the-first-time-flagship-law-journals-at-top-us-law-schools-are-all-led-by-women/2020/02/07/b4d3bc64-4836-11ea-bc78-8a18f7afcee7_story.html

They joined together an published a special edition on Women and Law featuring a selection of accomplished women lawyers from diverse backgrounds addressing intersectoral concerns. We extend our heartfelt congratulations and encourage all to read and disseminate this edition!: https://law.duke.edu/sites/default/files/news/WomenandLaw.pdf

Family, Gender, and Leadership in the Legal Profession Kerry Abrams

Motherhood as Misogyny Jane H. Aiken

On Power & Indian Country Maggie Blackhawk

Reflections of a Lady Lawyer Lisa Blatt
The Nerve: Women of Color in the Legal Academy Khiara M. Bridges
Inching Toward Equal Dignity Denise Brogan-Kator

On Firsts, Feminism, and the Future of the Legal Profession Risa L. Goluboff

Carrying on Korematsu: Reflections on My Father’s Legacy Karen Korematsu

Reconstituting the Future: An Equality Amendment Catharine A. MacKinnon Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

Law School in a Different Voice Melissa Murray

Experience on the Bench Rebecca R. Pallmeyer
Kafka’s Court: Seeking Law and Justice at Guantanamo Bay Alka Pradhan

A Personal Essay Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro

The Nineteenth Amendment: The Catalyst that Opened Courthouse Doors for Women on the Federal Bench Ann Claire Williams

Write On! Environmental Crimes Conference

This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to submit papers for the 2nd Environmental Crimes Conference as follows:

The Common Good Foundation in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Center for World Indigenous Studies, The Jersey Law Commission, and The Resolution Journal, is hosting the 2nd Environmental Crimes Conference on October 1st and 2nd 2020 in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom.

The purpose of the conference is to bring together professionals from diverse disciplines around the world to discuss emerging trends and responses to environmental crimes.

The deadline for abstract submission is Friday, March 6, 2020 at midnightNotifications of acceptance will be delivered by the end of March 2020. Publication opportunities will be available for accepted presenters. Additional information and the form for abstract submission can be found here.

Read On! Revista Temas de Derecho Constitucional: Asilo y Migracíon

I am pleased to announce the publication of the Constitutional Court of Colombia’s Revista Temas de Derecho Constitucional on Asylum and Migration. The edition includes articles in Spanish and English on collective expulsions, the Cartagena Declaration, Stateless children and birth registration, constitutional protection of asylym, socio-economic and cultural rights of migrants, provision of health care, etc. My article is titled “The Provision of Asylum as a Peace Mechanism and Recent Challenges Within Asylum Case Processing of Venezuelan Applicants in the US and Canada”. It discusses misapplication of the credibility standard, “credibility fatigue”, uneven evaluation of evidence, and failure to recognize a nexus to the protection category of political opinion. The conclusion confirms systemic dysfunction and the importance of appeals judges correcting arbitrary decisionmaking. Asylum as a peace mechanism is weakened. The Revista is available here:http://sidn.ramajudicial.gov.co/SIDN/DOCTRINA/TEXTOS_COMPLETOS/Revista%20Temas%20de%20Derecho%20Constitucional/HTML/146/index.html

TEACHING TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE AFTER CONFLICT AND TERROR: CASES OF KOSOVO AND NORWAY

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Kjersti Lohne

How can education help to realize the multiple goals and visions of transitional justice, and how can transnational justice be adapted to new educational objectives?

During November 2019, scholars from the University of Pristina and the University of Oslo met at the Faculty of Law in Pristina to discuss the role of universities in educating for peace. Taking this dialogue between two very different experiences of mass violence – Kosovo with war and oppression, and Norway with a terror attack as its point of departure – this blog discusses what it means to teach transitional justice in a new decade, and the merits of applying transitional justice perspectives to new domestic contexts that are not used to think of themselves as ‘transitional’.

Transitional justice has primarily been a toolkit for post-conflict justice such as the Kosovo context. As noted by Human Rights Watch 20 years on, civilians paid a hefty price: In 1998 and 1999 between 90% of the Kosovar population of 2 million was displaced by Serbian forces and around 13 000 people were killed. An estimated 1653 remain missing. Sexual violence and torture were widespread. Only few individuals have been tried and convicted for their role in the atrocities. Trauma and the effects of political violence and impunity continue to shape Kosovar society today.

22 July 2011, the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb in the Oslo government district, which killed eight people, injured about 200 and led to significant material destruction. Breivik then travelled to the Labour Party’s Youth Organization (AUF) summer camp at Utøya Island, where dressed up as a police officer, he massacred 69 individuals, including 50 children. Thousands of survivors, relatives, rescuers and bystanders remain deeply affected. Since 2011, numerous terrorists have claimed 22 July as a source of inspiration (herehere or here).

Kosovo and Norway cannot be directly compared: The type of crime, scale of violence and suffering is vastly different, and so is the state’s ability to respond. Moreover, while Breivik was Norwegian, the war in Kosovo was between different entities, which affects how respective communities deal with the legacy of violence in its aftermath. However, a dialogue between the two contexts is both timely and appropriate. The experience of Norway after the 22 July 2011 terror attack, and that of other countries recovering from similar mass casualty terror attacks, suggests that transitional justice might have a place in the aftermath of violent political extremism in otherwise established democracies. The political nature of this type of violence engenders difficult questions as to who is an insider and outsider in a given domestic context, and narratives of belonging, responsibility and harm shift over time.

Kosovar and Norwegian educators both grapple with a contemporary context where the production of knowledge and truth claims – as well as the legitimacy and authority of higher education itself – are contested. At a fundamental level, this concerns how we live together, respect each other’s humanity and work towards consensus on versions of the past and of the future.

Integrating transitional justice and education

Transitional justice is many things to many people. The most widely applied definition is the one offered by the UN, seeing transitional justice as a first and foremost a process, and referring to ‘the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation’. Observant scholars have taken issue with how transitional justice processes are incrementally framed in legal discourse. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), for example, refer to transitional justice as ‘judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, including prosecution initiatives, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, or a combination thereof’, and assert that ‘Whatever combination is chosen must be in conformity with international legal standards and obligations’.

At the same time, influential actors such as the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) stress that transitional justice is about ‘putting victims and their dignity first’ and asking ‘the most difficult questions imaginable about law and politics’. They see such difficult yet necessary questioning as signaling ‘the way forward for a renewed commitment to make sure ordinary citizens are safe in their own countries – safe from the abuses of their own authorities and effectively protected from violations by others’. The Humanitarian Law Center understands transitional justice to be about ‘dealing with the past to build the future.’ In a similar vein, and as stated by one of the Kosovar workshop participants, transitional justice is about helping ‘to reveal the truth and what has happened’.

Within this diversity of transitional justice objectives, the role of education is gaining increasing traction – both as a question of developing didactics for teaching transitional justice, and of conceptualizing education as a key sector alongside other societal institutions and sectors subject to transitional justice processes. However, this is a relative new development, and much work still needs to be done. As Elizabeth A. Cole and the ICTJ have pointed out, ‘The field has moved from discursively recognizing the importance of education (though placing it beyond the ambit of transitional justice practice temporally and philosophically) to trying to find models for active engagement with it’. 

The case of Kosovo

As a nation, Kosovo remains in a precarious position as it grapples with its past, present and future. With respect to terror attacks, the challenge for otherwise established democracies in Europe also take on temporal and continuous elements: each new attack shapes possible futures by way of creating cultures of fear, but also by legitimating the exclusion of ‘deserving’ victims or individuals deemed ‘complicit’ merely by way of their membership in ethnic, social or religious groups. How do we educate students about restoration, accountability and justice when we are always suspended somewhere between the last terror attack – and the next?

Asking our hosts this question, the answer is that we must hold onto the idea that transitional justice, regardless of the violent context, must come from below.

First, we must accept that this will be messy, unfinished and not always successful – also in an educational context. An important but often overlooked part of what it means to do transitional justice from below is the productive role of mistakes – and the importance of discussing them. As suggested by participants to the conference, mistakes do happen – there are perhaps even necessary pathways to learning. Yet, mistakes – or lack of professionalization – can hamper or completely undermine the transitional justice effort too. Participants noted that the most obvious examples concern recovery and identification of dead bodies or the restoration and protection of cultural heritage. As explained by a practitioner working with survivors of sexual violence, there are specific instances where the overarching principle is to ‘do no harm’ and where no mistakes are permitted: ‘we can’t make mistakes – that would compromise the women’.  To retain a conscious relationship with the role of mistakes and professionalization alike was thus a recurring topic in Kosovo.

However, these statements also point to the possible tensions between the emphasis on transitional justice being locally embedded and professionalized at the same time – which again lead to broader questions about the role of the state. From the Kosovar perspective, learning to carry out the tasks of transitional justice in parallel with doing nation-building takes time – in part because externally funded institutions come and go. From the perspective of established democracies that are increasingly characterized by post-welfare, neoliberal governance, questions about local ownership and professionalization are as pertinent.

A final concern was the challenging role of education in a time of contested knowledge production. In post-conflict settings, there are often contestations over history. Today, technology too exacerbates tensions over truth claims and historic narratives in Kosovo and Norway alike. Among participants, including students, there was concern of ‘history repeating itself’, with visible signs of tensions and ‘othering’ across the European continent. Participants reflected on why this is happening again, and what can be done about it. Some participants suggested that human rights offered a language – a normative baseline – for continuing dialogue in spite of conflicting ‘truths’ and world views – even in the classrooms. Holding on to human rights as a normative bulwark in education may strengthen its foundation also beyond the classroom. This speaks to a fundamental tenet of teaching transitional justice, namely the importance of continuing, recognizing that ‘not to stop’ is an objective in and of itself.

Observations

The post-violence contexts of Kosovo and Norway are very different. What can we do with these types of exchanges? We suggest that if imagined and articulated correctly, the juxtaposition between violent conflict and violent extremism opens a space for critical discussions about citizenship, belonging and the imagination of the nation-state as inclusive, accountable—and just.  After all, education is of significant structural and societal importance as a site of justice and injustice alike, and as such, carries potential as both a key form and site of reparation and transitionPablo Freire has noted that by focusing on participants’ life experiences, such an approach may affirm participants’ dignity and recognize that all in the room are teachers and learners alike. While the pedagogy of teaching transitional justice in a violent extremism context is made complicated by the lack of a clear ending – and the impossibility of guaranteeing non-repetition – learning from practitioners and thinking with the perspectives of transitional justice offers a road forward.

This blog was initially posted at http://blog.associatie.kuleuven.be/ltjb/teaching-transitional-justice-after-conflict-and-terror-cases-of-kosovo-and-norway/

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Kjersti Lohne are co-organizers of an initiative called LAW22JULY – where LAW stands for learning, accountability, witnessing – based at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo in Norway. The flagship project is LAW22JULY: RIPPLES (Rights, Institutions, Procedures, Participation, Litigation:Embedding Security) starting in 2020. 

Colombia’s Constitutional Court issues landmark decision recognising victims of reproductive violence in conflict

A month ago, on 11 December 2019, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued an important decision recognising that women and girls who suffered forced contraception and forced abortion by their own armed groups should be recognized as ‘victims of armed conflict’. The decision is one of very few in the world to specifically recognise reproductive violence as a form of harm committed against women and girls in times of conflict. It thus sets important legal precedent in recognising a form of gender-based violence that has long remained invisible. Although the full written decision has not yet been made available, a summary of the decision has been published. In what follows, I analyse this summary.

Helena’s case

The case was brought by Women’s Link Worldwide on behalf of Helena (pseudonym), a young woman who had been forcibly recruited into the FARC at the age of 14. While with the FARC, she was forced to take contraceptives (injections) and forced to undergo an abortion when she became pregnant. She suffered significant and long-lasting health consequences as a result of the unsafe conditions in which these procedures were forcibly carried out. Continuing to suffer negative health consequences, Helena fled and was in hiding for many years until the peace deal with the government was signed. In 2017, she submitted an application to be recognised as a victim and to seek reparations under Colombia’s Law on Victims and Land Restitution (Law 1448). This law, adopted in 2011, recognizes victims of the armed conflict and confirms their rights to truth, justice and reparations. It includes provisions on the restitution of land and other reparations, and requires that special attention be paid to the needs of specific groups and communities, such as women, survivors of sexual violence, trade unionists, victims of forced displacement, and human rights defenders.

The agency charged with the registration of victims under this reparations framework (UARIV), however, subsequently denied Helena’s claim for victim status. In doing so, UARIV had relied upon an article in Law 1448 that denied victim status to members of illegal armed groups (Article 2(3)), and held that, in any case, Helena’s claim was submitted outside of applicable timelines set out in Law 1448. Helena fought this decision; while the first instance court did grant her access to government-provided medical support, her claims for recognition as a victim and for reparations under Law 1448 were dismissed in both first and second instance. She thus appealed her case to the Constitutional Court, who heard the matter in 2019, and issued this landmark decision at the end of last year. Importantly, Helena’s case was selected for review by the full panel of nine judges, rather than being decided upon by a panel of three judges. This illustrates the importance the Constitutional Court attached to the issues.

Constitutional Court’s decision

In its December 2019 decision, the Constitutional Court firstly found established that Helena was the victim of grave violations of her fundamental rights. The Court subsequently held that in dismissing her application to be registered as a victim of the armed conflict, UARIV violated Helena’s fundamental rights on two grounds. Firstly, UARIV had violated Helena’s rights as a victim by failing to interpret the applicable rules in accordance with established constitutional principles of most favourable interpretation, good faith, pro personae, and the primacy of substantive law. Secondly, UARIV failed to properly substantiate its decision by neither acknowledging the acts of forced abortion and forced displacement Helena suffered, nor by recognising that Helena’s specific circumstances constituted force majeure, preventing her from submitting an application within designated timelines.

The Court acknowledged that, on its face, Article 2(3) of Law 1448 allowed for the denial of victim status to ex-combatants who demobilised as an adult, and that, under this interpretation, Helena would have to seek reparations through other mechanisms, not including Law 1448 (as Helena fled the FARC after she turned 18). However, the Court also questioned whether this exclusion in Article 2(3) was consistent with Colombia’s obligations towards victims of the armed conflict, noting in particular the coercive nature of the practice of forced contraception and abortion within the FARC and that these acts were often perpetrated upon girls under 18, or upon young women who had only just reached the age of maturity.

According to the Court, denying Helena the right to be recognised as a victim under Law 1448, therefore, would violate her rights to access justice and to timely and adequate protection measures. Noting the principal obligation on the state to recognise victims of sexual violence as victims in such a way as to guarantee their rights to integral reparations, the Court also held that as a victim of sexual violence committed within an armed group, Helena would not have access to other avenues of reparations beyond Law 1448. As such, for the Court, registration in the Register of Victims constituted her only available avenue to adequately repair her fundamental rights.

Importantly, the Court held that the exclusion stipulated in Article 2(3) could not become an obstacle to reparations for victims of sexual violence who, as ex-combatants, were forcibly recruited into those illegal armed groups at a young age. Such a rigid interpretation of Article 2(3), according to the Court, would thus create an unconstitutional lack of protection and vulnerability. The Court also reiterated the state’s obligation to provide immediate, comprehensive, gender-sensitive and specialised health care to all victims of sexual violence by armed actors for such time as deemed necessary to overcome the physical and psychological health consequences of such violence.

For this reason, the Court relied upon the principle of declaring a ‘constitutional exception’ (la excepción de inconstitutionalidad) as provided for in Article 4 of Colombia’s Constitution to overrule the applicability of Article 2(3) of Law 1448 to Helena’s case. Pursuant to this principle, when faced with a conflict between an ordinary legal norm and a constitutional norm, the Court may declare a constitutional exception to preserve rights guaranteed by the constitution in a specific case. In this case, the Court held that relying upon this principle was the only way to guarantee Helena’s fundamental rights and to find an adequate balance between Colombian law and Colombia’s international legal obligations under international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Not doing so, the Court stressed, would give rise to consequences that it held to be unconstitutional. As such, the Court rendered Article 2(3) of Law 1448 inapplicable to this specific case.

The Court thus ordered:

  • that the decision by UARIV not to include Helena in the Register of Victims be declared void;
  • that within 10 days of the date of its decision, UARIV admit Helena to the Register of Victims on the basis of her having suffered forced recruitment as a child, sexual violence (including forced use of contraceptives and forced abortion), and forced displacement;
  • that within 15 days of the date of its decision, UARIV reinstate the provision of psychosocial and medical assistance to Helena to address the emotional, mental health and physical effects of having suffered sexual violence;
  • that in the provision of integral reparations to Helena, UARIV take a gender-sensitive approach to ensure her fundamental rights; and
  • that the health services provide and guarantee access to Helena to immediate, comprehensive, gender-sensitive, specialised care for as long as necessary to address the physical and psychological consequences of the violations she suffered.

Significance of the decision

In finding in favour of Helena’s registration as a victim of the armed conflict, this case establishes that ex-combatants who were forcibly recruited into illegal armed groups and suffered sexual violence, as well as reproductive violence, within those armed groups may seek victim status and thus have access to reparations under Law 1448 – a right they did not have before – regardless of the age at which they demobilised or fled. Beyond the significance of this finding for the claimant in this specific case, therefore, this decision also sets important legal precedent in recognising that victims of sexual and reproductive violence within armed groups are victims of armed conflict. This follows earlier jurisprudence by the International Criminal Court in the Ntaganda case (here and here; see also this 2017 post by IntLawGrrl Rosemary Grey). The Colombian decision is also one of very few in the world to specifically recognise reproductive violence as a distinct form of harm committed against women and girls in times of conflict.

As part of the case, the Court received 17 expert briefs from national and international human rights organisations, women’s rights organisations, academics and international experts, including one from the author of this blog post (written jointly with Ciara Laverty). In our amicus request filing, we offered the Court a comprehensive overview of the way in which reproductive violence long remained invisible in international law, how it is increasingly being recognised, and why it should be recognised as a specific and distinct form of harm, including when committed within armed groups.

Reproductive violence is a widespread yet understudied phenomenon that occurs in times of both conflict and of peace. It can have serious physical, mental, emotional and other consequences that persist long after the violence has occurred. It is a form of victimisation connected to but also different from sexual and other violence, due to the distinct harm it inflicts and the underlying value it is said to violate, i.e. reproductive autonomy. Although reproductive violence affects individuals of all genders, there are distinct forms of harm and violence that are inflicted only upon women and girls because of and directly targeting their sex-specific biological reproductive capacities, such as forced contraception, forced abortion and forced pregnancy.

Historically, however, there have only been few instances where such violence has been independently recognised and considered. This left reproductive violence relatively invisibilised in international law. Nonetheless, current developments reflect a growing recognition that reproductive violence constitutes a distinct form of violence that should be independently recognised as violating specific, individual rights and may also constitute (international) crimes in certain circumstances. This decision by the Colombian Constitutional Court recognising the specific victimisation of female ex-combatants through forced contraception and forced abortion thus contributes to providing greater legal recognition to a form of gender-based violence that has long remained invisible in international law.

Importantly, in addition to claiming her rights as a victim through the constitutional action that was the subject of this decision, Helena has also requested participation as a victim in case 007 before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. As such, further jurisprudence, including on individual criminal responsibility for acts of reproductive violence such forced contraception and forced abortion, may be forthcoming in Colombia.

Stay tuned!