Supporting the Colombian Transitional Justice Process

Image by Pixabay

GCRF@Essex interview questions: Prof. Sabine Michalowski and Prof. Clara Sandoval-Villalba

Partners/organisations: Dejusticia, a Colombian Think-Do-Tank

What is your research about?

Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army; Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) signed a comprehensive peace agreement in 2016 which devises a transitional justice system to respond to the atrocities suffered by more than 9 million victims over various decades of armed conflict. The focus of our research is the transitional justice system (mechanisms and processes) which was designed by the peace agreement. In particular, our research focuses on one of the key transitional justice mechanisms: the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), which was created to ensure accountability for the atrocities, especially on how its work can be supported and strengthened to fulfil victims’ right to justice, reparation, and truth.

What activities did your GCRF@Essex funding support?

Our GCRF@Essex funding supported trips to Colombia to build and strengthen networks and contacts, hold events such as meetings with colleagues at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace about the challenges they are facing. We also organised meetings to receive feedback from relevant stakeholders on our research, and on future research that would be of relevance for Colombian transitional justice actors.

We also hired Colombian researchers to write policy papers and other documents, for example, a guide on how the Colombian Special Jurisdiction should deal with economic actors and how to define legal concepts that are of crucial importance for the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We launched these publications at events in Bogota.

We also obtained GCRF@Essex funded fellowships for several Colombian colleagues to attend the Human Rights Centre Research Methods summer school at Essex or to spend some research time at Essex to develop further research projects. For example, a key GCRF@Essex funded activity was to carry out joint research with Dejusticia, a Colombia-based research and advocacy organisation dedicated to the strengthening of the rule of law and the promotion of social justice and human rights in Colombia and the Global South. We successfully applied with Dejusticia colleagues to an AHRC GCRF urgency funding call and are currently working with Dejusticia and the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights at the University of Oxford on the AHRC funded project: Legitimacy, accountability, victims’ participation and reparation in transitional justice settings – lessons from and for Colombia. GCRF@Essex funds have supported our work on various legal and other issues that have emerged from this AHRC grant. For example, work on potential alternative sanctions for those responsible for mass atrocities who confess their crimes before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

You have been looking at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) in Colombia, how is your project benefitting the country and which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being addressed?

Our project benefits the country by strengthening the work of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), which plays a central role for ending impunity, achieving accountability for conflict related crimes and justice for victims. Through assisting the SJP we ultimately support the goals of consolidating peace and promoting reconciliation. The SJP is working under enormously challenging circumstances, as Colombia is a highly polarised country and the implementation of the peace agreement, and the legitimacy of the SJP, are highly contested. In that context, it is of crucial importance to support the SJP’s work. The legal framework within which this jurisdiction is working is new not only in Colombia but also worldwide. Colombia’s transitional justice approach is highly innovative and ambitious and that translates into big challenges that need to be overcome on a daily basis. The daily work of the SJP raises many conceptual challenges that are relevant for advancing SDGs 16 (Promoting Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), 10 (Reducing Inequalities), and 5 (promoting gender equality). Our research contributes to Colombia’s achieving these goals by providing urgently needed recommendations to the SJP, particularly on key legal concepts such as the criteria for the selection of cases, victim participation and reparation. All of this strengthens the work of the SJP.

What tips would you give to other people applying for projects funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund?

The main advice would be to invest a lot of time and effort in building in-country academic and non-academic networks and devise projects with partners and stakeholders in the relevant countries to maximise the impact of the research.

Your GCRF activities have involved various colleagues from Colombia, especially Dejusticia and the SJP, how did you find your collaborators?

Initially, we built the connection with Dejusticia more than a decade ago, in the context of a project focused on linking corporate accountability and transitional justice, funded by a British Academy UK Latin America links grant. To that event, we invited a colleague from Dejusticia to a seminar at Essex who then contributed to an edited collection that followed from that project. We sustained and broadened our links with Dejusticia through regular visits to Colombia where we would hold meetings with them and gradually started to design and carry out joint projects.

Collaboration with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace partly came about through professional contacts who work at the SJP, but also through regular meetings jointly organised with Dejusticia where we would provide a space to exchange experiences and be kept updated with the main challenges the SJP is facing. This information feeds back into our work and makes it relevant to the work of the SJP which in turn helps to broaden our networks in Colombia.

What were the main challenges you encountered working on these collaborative projects?

Obtaining the necessary funding to keep the projects going and finding the time for our involvement.

How do your GCRF funded projects support your wider research plans?

Our research plans have greatly benefited from GCRF funding, as our research is impact focused and the GCRF funded projects permitted us to focus on our areas of interest while at the same time devising impact work which we consider of significant importance in the area of transitional justice. Importantly, GCRF funding has permitted us to tackle relevant issues that have come to our attention in the middle of other research, and to respond to them effectively by having access to the necessary human and other resources to carry out quality and timely research.

This interview first appeared on the website of the University of Essex and is reproduced on our research blog with permission and thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s