Grooming a new generation of practitioners: Putting youth in charge of Transitional Justice

By Published On: 18th July 2022

On 12 and 13 May 2022, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) and the Southern Africa Youth Forum (SAYoF) co-hosted a two-day conference, funded by the Norwegian Embassy in SA, on The Role of Youth in Promoting Transitional Justice in Southern Africa. The hybrid conference physically gathered 40 youth leaders representing Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states in Johannesburg, South Africa, while other attended via Zoom transmission. The participants gained knowledge of Transitional Justice (TJ) and explored the roles that young people can play to initiate and lead TJ processes using the AUTJP as a resource and a guide. Transitional justice processes by their nature are future oriented, hence the most important actors in that process should be young people who, if not harnessed, possess a great potential to cause instability, yet when capacitated, become key actors for healing, peace, and development. The IJR is grooming a new generation of transitional justice practitioners by promoting youth participation and agency to harness the peace dividend.

In February 2019, the African Union (AU) Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) after nearly a decade of civil society advocacy and collaboration. The policy defines transitional justice as “…the various (formal and traditional or non-formal) policy measures and institutional mechanisms that societies, through an inclusive consultative process, adopt in order to overcome past violations, divisions, and inequalities and to create conditions for both security and democratic and socio-economic transformation. Transitional justice is meant to assist societies with legacies of violent conflicts and systematic or gross violations of human and peoples’ rights in their effort to achieve transition to the future of justice, equality, and dignity”. It is a peacebuilding guiding policy that builds upon the African human rights normative framework embodied by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and attendant regional legal and human rights instruments.

Countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have a marked history of violence and impunity that has left human rights violations committed largely unaddressed. Amongst others, the violations committed during slavery and slave trade, colonialism, the apartheid regimes (in South Africa and Namibia), the civil wars in Mozambique and Angola, Operation Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe and periods of election related human rights violations across the region are few examples of violent episodes that have left many victims seeking redress. The region also exhibits deep structural and cultural forms of violence that have left the majority economically disadvantaged, particularly women, youths and children who remain marginalised. In this regard, state-sponsored institutions aimed at investigating and bringing redress to the victims have fallen short in addressing socio-economic inequalities and ending impunity.

By capacitating the youths with transitional justice knowledge, IJR is complementing the aspirations of the regional bloc SADC which undertook to “consolidate, defend and maintain democracy, peace, security and stability” as one of its main objectives. This is reiterated in the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation that established the SADC Organ Troika with an objective “to prevent, contain and resolve inter and intra-state conflict by peaceful means”. More concretely, SADC underscores the imperative of peace, security and good governance for a successful regional integration and development in its blue print the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP 2020-2030).

Furthermore, working with the youths reinforces the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 of 2015 on Youth Peace and Security which “urges Member States to consider ways to increase inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels in local, national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict, including institutions and mechanisms to counter violent extremism which can be conducive to terrorism, and as appropriate, to consider establishing integrated mechanisms of meaningful participation of youth in peace processes and dispute-resolution”. It recognises that the marginalisation of youths is “detrimental to building sustainable peace in all societies” and calls for measures that empower youths in peacebuilding and “support local youth peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution”.

In 2006, The African Union (AU) adopted the African Youth Charter during the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments in Banjul, The Gambia.  The AU Peace and Security Department inaugurated the Youth for Peace Africa programme in 2018 as way to mainstream African youth into peace and security using the UNSC Resolution 2250 as the normative framework. Notable delegates at the IJR-SAYOF conference included inspirational African Youth Ambassadors for Peace – Cynthia Chingwenya (Zimbabwe) and Diana Chando (Tanzania) representing Southern Africa and East Africa, respectively. Also in attendance is the trail-blazing Namibian Member of Parliament Hon. Patience Masua, who at 23 is the youngest parliamentarian in the whole of Southern Africa.

An immediate off-spin of the conference was an online Transitional Justice dialogue meeting organised by Zambian delegate Mwila Chrissedy Bwanga on 7 July 2022 that ran under the theme ‘creating avenues for meaningful youth engagement in transitional justice mechanisms’ and was attended by more than 50 youths. Three resource persons of the Johannesburg conference, Webster Zambara (IJR), Dzikamai Bere (ZimRights) and Refilwe Makgopela (University of Johannesburg) were also invited and made presentations. IJR will continue to support and partner with youth initiatives as we create a new generation of transitional justice activists and practitioners across Africa.

Webster Zambara, Senior Project Leader: Peacebuilding Interventions

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