New York — "We want to turn the page, but not at the cost of justice"- that was a message repeated by victims of human rights abuses interviewed in a new report released today on transitional justice in the Central African Republic (CAR). Produced by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and Cordaid, 'A Drop of Water on a Hot Stone': Justice for Victims in the Central African Republic presents findings from a study exploring victim-centered approaches to justice in CAR and their feasibility in a context of profound fragility and extreme poverty.
The study, conducted in 2020, involved 68 qualitative interviews with key stakeholders, including 31 victims, representatives of local civil society organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, and UN agencies, and local policymakers and government officials, among others.
It found that recurrent cycles of conflict in CAR have not only impoverished the resource-rich country but have weakened state institutions and hindered their ability to provide services and respond to victims' needs. "The transition in the case of CAR not only faces the usual challenges related to political will, security, and stability, but also those related to development, reducing poverty and hunger, and providing education and health care," explained Rim El Gantri, ICTJ's lead program expert on CAR and coauthor of the report.
A victim-centered approach to justice in CAR must consider victims' particular socioeconomic circumstances and needs, including where they live, as well as the nature of the harms they experienced. "All justice initiatives and processes remain centralized in the capital Bangui, which affects and shapes how they respond to victims' needs since many of them live in rural areas," said El Gantri. For instance, victims in Bangui tend to be far more informed about their rights and ongoing transitional justice processes than those in rural areas.
"Some victims in rural areas interviewed for the study said that they had never before been approached or asked about their opinion about justice. Yet, for these victims, the need for compensation and reparations is most acute, and addressing it ought to be the most urgent priority for the state," added Dr. Arnaud Yaliki, a Central African international law expert and coauthor of the report.
A plurality of Central Africans, including victims, members of marginalized communities, and civil society representatives, must meaningfully participate in any transitional justice process if it is to effectively address past abuses, help establish a shared national narrative, and ensure durable peace and economic development for all.
As underlined in the report, it is also important that an approach goes beyond a legalistic understanding of transitional justice. For instance, mechanisms can be established to pursue accountability that do not rely solely on criminal justice procedures and tribunals. Similarly, the design and implementation of reparations programs should be based on broad consultations with victims and civil society and not on political fiat or even court decisions.
While the report highlights the diverse challenges to achieving justice for victims in CAR, it also describes best practices and identifies potentially innovate solutions and strategies.
Finally, it provides a set of recommendations for the government and other stakeholders that, if implemented, could pave the way for an inclusive and victim-centered transitional justice process in the country. "These recommendations are relevant far beyond CAR," noted El Gantri. "In other fragile contexts, there is a similar need to place victims at the center of these processes, as well as to connect transitional justice to peacebuilding and development."