Exclude Migrants from Transitional Justice Processes at your Own Risk

In recent years, a number of African states - especially those emerging from conflict and periods of serious human rights violations - have adopted or proposed various mechanisms to deal with the past. However a significant number of displaced yet do not have access to the transitional justice initiatives of their countries. The continued exclusion of migrants from transitional justice processes has serious implications for the attainment of peaceful and durable solutions. 

by George Mukundi Wachira

The initiatives and approaches that states employ to deal with past human rights atrocities in a bid to build sustainable peace are now commonly referred to as transitional justice. Such initiatives include but are not limited to:

  • Accountability measures which include prosecutions, traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, and vetting of those responsible for various crimes during periods of repression
  • Truth seeking measures, increasingly in the form of truth commissions
  • Reparations to victims  
  • Memorialization processes
  • National reconciliation programmes
  • Institutional and legal reforms

Transitional justice mechanisms present unique opportunities for redressing historical injustices in a bid to achieve long-term peace and reconciliation among societies. However, despite the proliferation of these mechanisms and processes on the African continent, the search for peaceful co-existence among communities and a return to democracy remains elusive. While there are a myriad of factors responsible for this -especially a lack of political will by those in power- transitional justice mechanisms can only work when all citizens of a state play an active role in seeking peace, reconciliation and democracy. Of particular concern is the continued exclusion of refugees, internally displaced people and other migrants from transitional justice processes that have been mooted in Africa.

Migrants do not get an opportunity to shape, inform and formulate the transitional justice processes- perhaps since the state-led mechanisms do not make a conscious effort to reach out to migrants. In addition, migrants' concerns and specific human rights abuses that led them to flee their countries of origin are often absent from thematic areas of focus of the transitional justice mechanisms. This is notwithstanding the fact that most migrants flee their places of habitual residence for various reasons including state repression, or fear of persecution and victimization.

In Rwanda for example, a considerable number of the population- particularly those persons displaced during the post genocide civil war — remain outside the country's borders, largely in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Zimbabwe, as the Unity Government charts the way forward, its diaspora population — comprising both economic and political migrants — is overwhelmingly excluded from the local transitional justice processes that aim to cultivate peaceful solutions for the country. In Sudan, a significant number of the South Sudanese communities that were displaced - some of whom still live in refugee camps in Northern Kenya and other neighbouring countries - do not participate in the transitional justice initiatives set to take place in the country. In Kenya, internally displaced peoples-following the post election violence in 2007 — remain at the margins of the transitional justice processes, a situation that threatens to undermine the whole initiative.

The continued exclusion of migrants from transitional justice processes has serious implications for the attainment of peaceful and durable solutions. Research elsewhere argues that 'the success of durable solutions, especially the return of migrants to their countries of origin, often depends on reconciliation and reparation programmes designed to confront the injustices at the root of displacement, restore access to homes and properties, stimulate development and ensure that the displaced can live as equal citizens in relative peace with their neighbours.'

As long as migrants are not consulted — or at the minimum do not actively participate in transitional justice processes in their home countries — transitional justice mechanisms are doomed to fail. It is therefore imperative that as states in Africa propose and adopt such mechanisms, they give due regard and a voice to all migrants in those processes. Failure to do so will undoubtedly set back any potential for the establishment of sustainable peace.