Reflections from Stephen Buchanan-Clarke

In September, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) participated in the 3rd Annual Continental Transitional Justice Forum held at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and convened in partnership by the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the African Union Department of Political Affairs (AU-DPA).

Since the inaugural Forum in 2017, this event has been held annually to evaluate and discuss the state of Transitional Justice (TJ) in Africa. This year’s Forum was especially significant as it was held following the adoption of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) by the Heads of State during their 32nd Ordinary Session in February.

TJ initiatives are by no means new to Africa, there are many countries which have implemented transitional justice processes, such as truth commissions, national dialogues, traditional justice practises, national reparations funds, to name a few, in order to address the legacies of violent conflicts and systemic or gross violations of human and peoples’ rights. It was on this basis that the African Union Panel of the Wise embarked on research and published the report “Non-Impunity, Truth, Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation in Africa: Opportunities and Constraints”.

The findings of the report illustrated that while Africa had varied experience in TJ, there was no one comprehensive policy framework to guide and promote experience sharing among the Member States. The report proposed the development of a policy on TJ for adoption by the relevant AU organs. Upon approval of the Panel of the Wise report and its recommendations, the AU policy-making organs mandated the AU Commission (AUC), through the Department of Political Affairs, to work with all stakeholders, particularly AU Member States and members of the Human Rights and Transitional Justice Cluster of the African Governance Architecture (AGA), to develop the TJ policy.

The development and subsequent adoption of the AUTJP earlier this year is a significant milestone within the field of transitional justice both in Africa and internationally and is crucial for the promotion of human rights and justice, peace and security, good governance and development on the continent.

This year’s Annual Continental Transitional Justice Forum aimed to sensitise and popularise the AUTJP among the Member States while providing a platform for the discussion of implementation, common challenges, and best practices in TJ. A range delivered thematic presentations of transitional justice scholars and practitioners around the eleven key elements of the AUTJP, namely: peace processes, transitional justice commissions, African traditional justice mechanisms, reparations, redistributive o socio-economic justice, justice and accountability, human and peoples’ rights, reconciliation and social cohesion, memorialization, political and institutional reforms, and diversity management.

To facilitate discussion around the importance of context-specificity in using the AUTJP to develop context-specific TJ plans at the national level, several past and current cases studies were drawn upon, including, for example, Gambia’s ongoing Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. While the Forum recognised the AUTJP as a significant achievement by the African Union towards building a peaceful and prosperous Africa, discussions emphasised how the popularisation of the policy and development of effective implementation strategies of its recommendations at the national level will ultimately determine whether it has the intended effect. It is to this end that the IJR intends to increase its efforts to popularise and sensitise governments and civil society organisations on the continent to the AUTJP.