One of the participants on the transitional justice study tour that the FNF hosted from the 6th till the 12th of November in Brussels and Berlin was Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, David Coltart. Coltart, who is also a founding member of the political party ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ (MDC), is well-known for the sterling work he did as Zimbabwe’s Minister for Education, Sport, Arts and Culture from 2009 to August 2013.
Coltart had had the good fortune of visiting Berlin before the study tour and has a real soft spot for the city. He now has what he can call a ritual – on each visit to the German capital, Coltart celebrates the fall of the wall by straddling the cobblestones which mark where it once stood and divided people. Doing this, he says, reminds him that tyrants do fall. This is particularly poignant given the book Coltart published earlier this year: The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe. Living in Zimbabwe, Coltart recounts, one must remind oneself that tyrannies do eventually come to an end.
The study tour, comprising of six strategically selected participants – two from Zimbabwe, two from Tanzania and two from South Africa, started in Brussels with a broad overview of ‘transitional justice’, a field that has been receiving growing attention mainly since the mid-80s and is thus still considered relatively new.
“Transitional justice consists of judicial and non-judicial measures implemented in order to redress legacies of human rights abuses. Such measures “include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms”. Transitional justice is enacted at a point of political transition from violence and repression to societal stability and it is informed by a society’s desire to rebuild social trust, repair a fractured justice system, and build a democratic system of governance. The core value of transitional justice is the very notion of justice—which does not necessarily mean criminal justice. This notion and the political transformation, such as regime change or transition from conflict are thus linked toward a more peaceful, certain, and democratic future.”
Each country represented has a unique past (or present) of injustice with which it must grapple. The idea behind the study tour was to expose participants to transitional justice measures implemented in dealing with, in particular, Germany’s Third Reich and German Democratic Republic past. The group was also briefed, from a European Union perspective, on the events in the Western Balkans giving rise to the need for very particular transitional justice there. Of course, while each situation is unique, there are many similarities in the types of atrocities committed and so much space for sharing experiences, both around the awful events that unfolded as well as around corresponding transitional justice measures. Ultimately, and very importantly to note, the human experience of suffering is universal.
In Berlin, the tour met with government institutions that deal with the compensation of victims of injustice not only for the loss of property, but for the loss of loved ones (lives lost) as well as for lost freedoms (concentration camps, emprisonment). We also learned about compensation for various consequences injustices have had on the mental and physical health of victims as well as how compensation was and is calculated in addition to such technical intricacies as evidentiary burdens.
Complimentary to the above were our meetings with organisations involved in what are often termed ‘softer’ (and consequently erroneously underrated) measures such as school curricula and how society more broadly remembers the past (memorials, days of remembrance, public art, museums etc) so that it never repeats itself. Of particular interest was our meeting with the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future which fosters a very bottom-up and personal approach to dealing with the past, emphasising the need to ‘dig where you stand’, i.e. to uncover and reflect upon the stories in one’s own neighbourhood.
All in all, the tour offered profound insights and lessons for the study tour group from a multitude of perspectives (the state, civil society and individuals). Of course, members of the group were also able to share their own experiences with the organisations in Brussels and Berlin and, importantly, with each other.