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First-hand Insights into the Colombian Peace Process

On October 17th, the conference „Aspects of Transitional Justice in Colombia” offered first-hand insights into the Colombian peace process. Fourteen Colombian students rendered presentations on various aspects of the armed conflict and its aftermath in Colombia as well as the attempts and measures taken to build peace.

The conference was opened with a brief introduction by Prof. Bettina Weisser, who gave an overview of the German experience and difficulties regarding the question on how to cope with the past throughout the German history since 1945. Prof. Weisser explained the unsatisfying approaches of German courts during that time and the theory of perpetration through an organization (by Claus Roxin) as the most important scholarly invention to properly deal with issues of macro criminality.

The first panel focussed mainly on legal aspects of the peace process in Colombia. As an introduction Pablo Rodríguez Pineda and Pedro León Callejas gave an overview of the transitional justice system and the main mechanisms of the peace agreement concluded in 2016. The second presentation by Humberto Sierra Olivieri, Valentina del Sol Salazar Rivera and Paloma Morales Carillo raised the question whether the Colombian truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition systems meet the standards of the ICC. Following Santiago Espitia Restrepo and Nicolás Otero Álvarez shed light on the problem of criminal liability in the Colombian transitional justice process. To conclude the first penal Laura Arévalo Roldán and Pablo Muñoz Madrid touched upon victims rights in the peace agreement.

The second panel in the afternoon had a more interdisciplinary approach to the topic. First Dr. Nathalia Bautista Pizzaro elaborated on the possibility of restauration of law through social models of reconciliation and the role of culture in the transition to peace. During her discourse she also gave insights on “Ubuntu”, a South African philosophy and model of reconciliation. Following, Cristian Salazar Reyes, Sebastián Torres Orozco and Paula Asprilla Arriaga touched upon the possibility of implementing art as a complementary mechanism or as a form of punishment in the Colombian transitional model. Closing the second panel Daniela León, González and Gina Torres López analysed the peace agreement from a gender perspective.

We would like to thank all participants for insightful presentations and fruitful discussions. Our special thanks go to the Colombian students who made all the way from Colombia to share the results of their research with us and tell us about their everyday experience with the reality of the peace process.

Interdisciplinary conference on Transitional Justice in Cologne

Conference Report "Dealing with the past to create a peaceful future"

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The conference “Dealing with the past to create a peaceful future – Young scholars’ perspectives on Transitional Justice” (September 14th and 15th, 2018) shed light on the experiences, challenges and perspectives of the research field Transitional Justice (TJ) in an interdisciplinary way. Young scholars from Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands gathered at the University of Cologne to discuss current challenges of the research field and get feedback on their work. The conference also served as  a platform for creating international networks and advancing the exchange between researchers.

The conference started with the keynote speach “What is ‘Transitional Justice’? Between Concept and Instrument”, delivered by Dr. Brigitte Weiffen (Universidade de São Paulo) via Skype. Prof. Weiffen gave an overview over the conceptual underpinnings of the concept Transitional Justice, traced the origin and development of the notion and pointed out frictions between the theoretical concept and the concrete application of the instrument.

After this keynote had generated a common understanding of the concept, the first panel “Punishments and Amnesties” examined theoretical and practical legal questions around holding perpetrators accountable through TJ mechanisms. Tobias Römer (Universität Marburg) revisited the rationale and value of criminal justice in the context of TJ and pointed out inherent challenges. Afterwards, Rodrigo Villagran (Universität zu Köln) threw light on the current status of amnesties in Latin America and jurisprudence by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights on this issue.

To close the first day, Fin-Jasper Langmack (Universität zu Köln) provided introductory remarks on “Fambul Tok”, a movie about an NGO Fin had recently interviewed during his fieldwork in Sierra Leone. Based on the example of community reconciliation efforts in Sierra Leone, the movie raised the question of how to deal with different understandings of concepts such as “justice” and “reconciliation” in different cultural contexts.

The second day started off with the panel “The Role of Transitional Justice in Countries emerging from conflict” which provided interdisciplinary spotlights on the chances and pitfalls of TJ in post-conflict societies. Juan Carlos Silén Hernández (formerly affiliated to the Universidad de Navarra) gave an overview over the role of the Universal System of Human Rights in TJ parting based on the example of the civil war in Guatemala. Afterwards, Jamal El-Zein (Universität zu Köln) shed light on the importance of institutional reform after civil war in post-civil war Lebanon. Finally, Ebru Demir (University of Sussex) challenged the concept of “Victimhood” and brought voices from the ground she collected during her fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The third panel entitled “Pushing the boundaries of the Transitional Justice concept” challenged the traditional scope of TJ. Kushini Sugathalapa (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) proposed including corruption into the aspect TJ confronts and exposed the possibilities and necessities to deal with corruption of former regimes in the context of Transitional Justice. Sophia Müller (Tilburg University) challenged the current temporal scope of TJ and shed light on TJ’s blind eye on the present with regard to the violation of peace agreements. To close the panel, Franziska Englert (Universität zu Köln) questioned the emerging concept “TJ without transition” and proposed re-thinking and widening the notion of “transition” in TJ.

The conference was closed by the keynote speech “Supporting Peace after Civil War: Transitional Justice in the Context of Broader Peacebuilding Effort” delivered by Karina Mross (German Development Institute). Karina Mross presented recently collected data on different issue areas of peacebuilding and shed light on the aspect of dealing with past and societal conflict transformation in the prevention of civil war recurrence. The keynote underlined the importance of engaging in further TJ research as the impact of this area on post-conflict countries is still subject to debate.

We would like to thank the speakers and audience of the conference for the fruitful and vivid discussion! Our special thanks go to our keynote speakers, Dr. Brigitte Weiffen and Karina Mross for taking the time to enriching this young scholars’ conference with their input.


The conference was organized by the Transitional Justice Research Group, Universität zu Köln, with generous support from the Graduate School of the Law Faculty.