HU study: Transitional justice in war-torn countries

Conference probes if models of transitional justice in war-torn countries can be applied to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

November 1, 2012 05:11
2 minute read.
Military court in Rwanda in 1999

Military court in Rwanda 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem held a conference on transitional justice from Sunday through Tuesday addressing the question: Can models of transitional justice in other war torn countries help with new approaches to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Transitional justice involves analyzing questions of how war-torn societies make peace and address past injustices between warring groups (often different ethnicities) who often still bear significant grudges.

Even after a war between different ethnic groups is over, questions of who committed war crimes and how to a new peace will be best helped, are complex and can even be dangerous to address.

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On the one hand there is the model of bringing war criminals on both sides to trial. The idea being that justice – enforced in a colorblind and ethnicity-blind fashion – binds the different sides together in a new respect for the rule of law.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, is a “truth and reconciliation” process, in which punishment is not meted out to anyone.

Instead, wrongdoers on both sides confess their misdeeds and gain absolution in a spirit of moving on from the past.

Then, there are of course, hybrids of the two approaches in which some of the worst war criminals are brought to trial, but most others are absolved in some sort of truth and reconciliation process.

The first two days of the conference were focused on a detailed exploration of case studies of other war-torn countries’ approaches to transitional justice.


The case studies reviewed included Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Ireland, Chile and South Africa.

Some speakers addressed issues regarding how democracies come to terms with allowing past perpetrators to avoid conventional punishment.

Others questioned whether the academic theories underlying transitional justice discourse were practical beyond the particular conflicts in which they were employed.

The final day of the conference was devoted to exploring how experiences in other nations could help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Among a number of issues, Dr. Tomer Braude discussed how Israeli courts – by avoiding historical interpretations of the conflict regarding the events of 1948 and 1967 – could serve as objective and even-handed purveyors of justice in the future.

Conference organizer, academic and legal practitioner Sigall Horovitz talked about the bright aspects and missed opportunities of the Or Commission which investigated the deaths of Israeli-Arabs during high-profile riots in October 2000.

Dr. Jona Bargur of the Forum of Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian Families for Peace and Reconciliation said he travels around the country’s schools, telling students that they should be optimistic and that if he “has not given up hope at 76 and after what he has been through,” that they “should not give up at the young age of 18.”

Moderator Hillel Cohen, on the other hand, said that one of the speakers had urged “repressing both sides’ narratives” and another speaker had urged “repressing Palestinian democracy.”

He said that this had left him “pessimistic, so I guess I’ll look for optimism elsewhere.”

For Horovitz, the most important thing to take away from the conference was that “Israel can learn from other post-conflict states.” It can improve “how it treats minorities, relates to past injustices through recognition” and other lessons.

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