Guest speakers from South Africa, Colombia and Michigan State University discussed transitional justice in their communities on Thursday afternoon in Weill Hall. About 65 students attended the event, titled “Critical Engagement with Transitional Justice: Perspectives from Africa and Latin America.” 

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the African Studies Center, the Donia Human Rights Center and the Ford School of Public Policy sponsored the event.

Yazier Henry, lecturer of public policy in the Public Policy School, moderated the event. Henry and the speakers had met previously at a conference in Berlin, and this was the first time they had reunited since that encounter. 

Henry said transitional justice — how countries address large-scale human rights abuses — played a role in his decision to become a lecturer at the Public Policy School.

“From the engagement — past, present, future — in the context of societies building peace, that the things through this promise of what (it means to have) greater democracy, what it means to have greater social justice, what it means to have human rights systems as accepted,” Henry said. 

Henry asked the panelists about their experiences with transitional justice. 

Within the idea of transitional justice, much of the conversation surrounded the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that formed in South Africa after the end of Apartheid.

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee was created for victims of Apartheid to express their grievances toward the victimizers in order to receive justice for the crimes committed under the regime. When Henry asked the speakers about the disappointments they had with transitional justice in their own countries, panelist Litheko Modisane of South Africa spoke to the flaws of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

“Now the South African case is quite complex, because on the one hand, the truth, whatever you may call that truth, it was exposed during the TRC,” Modisane said. “There are other larger questions that still remain. For instance, part of the mechanism of the TRC was that there will be reparations for the victims of violence and human rights abuses. However, to this day, that has not really happened.”

Castillejo-Cuellar, a professor at the Universidad de los Andes, went to graduate school in Colombia and published “Memories and Violence: Problems and Debates in a Global Perspective,” a book about memory and displacement in an international context. His initial research was about the effects of violence in Colombia.

Panelist Alejandro Castillejo-Cuellar discussed how his work in Colombia inspired his first book and research interests.

“As an anthropologist, I was interested in fieldwork, and try to understand how actual people reconstruct the world with a world that is broken by violence,” Castillejo-Cuellar said. 

Rackham student Tim Berke said he found it interesting to hear about the role of colonialism in restorative justice.

“I think hearing some of the questions from the group and the response from some of those was really interesting and to think about restorative justice, in a sense, and about colonialism,” Berke said. “And how that applies really opened my mind up to what that can imply and how far back we think about transitional justice and restorative justice.”

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