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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Peacebuilding Commission meeting on Transitional Justice and the experience of Colombia, The Gambia and Timor-Leste

28 April 2023

Delivered by

Statement of ASG Ilze Brands Kehris


Peacebuilding Commission meeting on Transitional Justice and the experience of Colombia, The Gambia and Timor-Leste


Conference Room 3


New York

Friends and colleagues,

I would like to thank the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, H.E. Mr. Ivan Šimonović, for inviting me to this very interesting and timely exchange.

The insights and experiences that today’s briefers will share, and the subsequent discussion, offer an important contribution to advancing present and future transitional justice processes. Allow me to mention, in this regard, that our Office is proud to continue supporting Colombia, The Gambia and Timor-Leste in their respective processes.

In the interest of time, I will focus my intervention on a few core issues of particular relevance from the perspective of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

First, transitional justice is a pragmatic problem-solving instrument based on human rights. What does this mean concretely? It is a tool that has proven useful for countries transitioning from a conflict-prone or affected situation to a rule of law-based society, and in which the entire population stands to benefit from the reforms. Such reforms will lead to more transparency, effective participation and consultation, and strengthened rule of law institutions. Transitional justice is a process that, if designed and implemented adequately, will lead to more prosperous and secure societies for all.

Second, the underlying objective of transitional justice processes is four-pronged: First, transitional justice seeks to empower individuals as rights-holders. It affirms victims as rights holders who have suffered the worst imaginable human rights violations as a consequence of conflict or repression. Second, transitional justice aims at increasing levels of civic and institutional trust. It endeavours to instil new confidence between individuals and communities and in State institutions. Countries that have lived through conflict or repression have a significant trust deficit, due in part to violations committed. Repairing societal trust is a very long and challenging journey. Third, transitional justice helps to re-establish the rule of law – an essential component to prevent and mitigate threats stemming from conflict, abuse and repression while upholding human rights. Last, transitional justice contributes to reconciliation and to building a cohesive and inclusive society. Oftentimes, this is a decades’ long undertaking that requires commitment, vision and perseverance. Importantly, it requires continuous support by the international community, of which this Commission is a primary pillar.

Regrettably, however, the potential of transitional justice to help societies develop effective preventive or peacebuilding strategies is often overlooked. While truth-seeking, criminal justice and reparations have themselves preventive effects, the fourth pillar of transitional justice – ‘guarantees of non-recurrence’ – is inherently forward-looking and particularly relevant for peacebuilding efforts. Such measures can help identify and address grievances and root causes of conflict and abuse, including by analysing pre-existing patterns of discrimination, exclusion, violence and gender stereotyping. Importantly, guarantees of non-recurrence not only refer to institutional reform, such as security and justice sector reforms or vetting, but includes initiatives in the societal, cultural, and individual spheres. Whatever forms they take, it is essential that they be simultaneously both past-sensitive and forward-oriented.

As a final observation, the preventive potential of transitional justice can only be fully leveraged if victims are fully engaged and involved. States should proactively seek the active participation of victims and civil society from the outset and throughout the process. In addition, broad, inclusive and meaningful public consultations are a key component – and pre-condition – to successful transitional justice processes. A society can only succeed on its path towards sustainable peace and development when all its constituencies can participate on an equal footing.

I thank you for your attention.