Implementing the African Union transitional justice policy: Prospects and challenges

By Published On: 18th December 2020

The crises around our continent do not seem to have decreased after the initial promise of the range of policy frameworks that we have adopted as an African continent. Most recently, the crisis in Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, which pits the government against a resurgent Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLP), has led to more than 40,000 refugees fleeing into the neighbouring Sudan, and untold casualties of war. Similarly, there are crises affecting Mozambique and the Cabo Del Gado region; Cameroon and the sectarian crisis in that country; South Sudan and Zimbabwe. As well as not to forget the long-standing challenges of violent extremisms that continue to afflict Somalia, Libya, and the Central African Republic (CAR). In addition, there are political challenges facing a number of our countries, and what all of these situations point to is the importance of addressing the underlying issues and grievances, in particular those that are fuelled by historical injustices. This is the primary function of transitional justice and this is why the African  Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) will be an important document for the continent over the next five to ten years.

IJR works to contributing to “sensitizing” key governmental, inter-governmental and civil society actors, about the provisions contained in the AUTJP which they can use to their own national and regional transitional justice, peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. Since it was adopted in February 2019, the AUTJP has provided a collective Pan-African template for countries to utilise in guiding their own national processes. However, it is clear from the minimal level of policy engagement and the low level of governmental uptake with the AUTJP, that we need to do much more to raise awareness and to capacitate colleagues to proactively engage with its provisions to guide our societies on their journey towards more durable and sustainable peace.

In paragraph 123, he AUTJP is very explicit on the role of non-state actors in this regards and paragraph … states that non-state actors also have a responsibility in the implementation of the AUTJP, by contributing to “the planning, implementing, monitoring, evaluating and reporting on all phases of the implementation of the policy”.  Furthermore, in paragraph 135, the AUTJP specifically identifies a technical role for civil society and think-tank actors, in support of governments, by contributing to the “production of relevant research and studies” through processes that systematically “collect best practices and facilitate the sharing of such best practices with societies contemplating or pursuing transitional justice processes”. In addition, it proposes that “the process for national dialogue, reconciliation and healing should enable faith leaders, traditional and community leaders, not only to play an active part in such processes … but also pursue intra- and inter-community dialogue, reconciliation and healing at local levels.” In effect, the AUTJP mandates local actors including community leaders to play a proactive role in the implementation of the AUTJP and in the creation of national spaces for dialogue on the approach that will be appropriate for specific countries and communal groups.

The AUTJP presents an opportunity for the African continent to recalibrate the legacy of the enduring adversarial relationship between state and society, by assigning specific tasks to non-state actors, civil society organisations, faith and traditional leaders. Specifically, the shared implementation of the AUTJP between state and non-state actors will encourage closer collaboration on the promotion of peacebuilding and reconciliation, which can have positive side-effect in terms of forging platforms that can increase the interaction and exchanges between the state and society.  Given the future trends of crisis on the African continent, the IJR will continue to contribute towards proactively to informing the practical governmental, and inter-governmental processes on the ground.

Prof. Tim Murithi is head of the Peacebuilding Interventions programme at IJR

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