The course focuses on psychological aspects of transitional justice in the area of population or societal responses, critiques of PTSD, the dangers of victimhood as a social identity, and the myth of reconciliation. The course will have a topical approach to these themes through focus on transitional justice mechanisms from the Balkans, Africa and the Americas.
Over the past twenty years, the global community has shown a renewed commitment to the pursuit of international criminal justice. A hallmark development in this regard is the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). A central asset of the court is victim and witness participation, based on an assumption that this approach will benefit those who have been affected by the crimes and their communities. Court-based efforts to seek and achieve peace after conflict depend largely on perceptions of fairness—the fair treatment of victims and witnesses and their ability to seek justice in a court of law. Yet little is known about the experiences of victims who come before international courts. Why do they come and how do they interpret their experiences? Since the mid-1970s, social psychologists and legal scholars have surveyed people around the world who have participated in judicial proceedings involving crimes committed in domestic jurisdictions to understand what it is about such processes that leads participants to consider them fair or unfair, and ultimately to accept or reject the outcome of such proceedings. Almost universally, these procedural justice studies have found that witnesses define a "fair process" as one that is based largely on three criteria described; benevolence, the degree to which they perceive that the court officials, from judges to social workers, care about them and their experiences; neutrality, the extent to which they have been able to talk about their experiences in a neutral and unbiased forum; and respect, the extent to which they have been treated in a professional and dignified manner.
Those involved in judicial processes are looking for signs that they can trust court officials. For this reason, showing the utmost respect to victims and witnesses at all phases of a judicial proceeding is key component for building trust in a court's authority and legitimacy, and ultimately the reconciliatory and therapeutic potential, if that is attainable? This course will explore these elements by focusing on:
- Transitional justice mechanisms; from truth commissions to courts
- Testimonies and interrogations; how to work with victims witnesses
- Individual and Community impact; paths to reconciliation, or not?