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Report: Workshop on Transitional Justice

Jun 17, 2015

New approaches to Transitional Justice were in the focus of a workshop at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" between May 15 and May 17, 2015. It welcomed scholars from all over the world and from a variety of disciplines. One highlight of the event was a talk by renowned lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC. The workshop was organised by Anja Bihler and Valentyna Polunina of the Junior Research Group "Transcultural Justice", who also have written this report. It was financed by the "Graduate Student Workshop" funding scheme.

Dr. Kerstin von Lingen at the opening of the conference

Day 1: Changing Perspectives

Karoline Postel-Vinay (Paris)

The first panel challenged the participants' conventional understanding of Transitional Justice with two talks approaching the subject from a macro- and a micro-perspective. Professor Karoline Postel-Vinay (Sciences Po) approached the issue from an International Relations perspective and presented a bird's eye view of history and the creation of historical narratives. Dr. Martin Chung (Hong Kong Baptist University), on the other hand, analyzed the contributions of an individual scholar, namely the attorney general for the state of Hesse Fritz Bauer who was responsible for the Auschwitz trials in postwar Germany.

Day 2: East Asia, Narratives and (Un-)Just Transitions

In the first panel of the second day the speakers discussed two case studies from East Asia. Dr. Wolfgang Form (University of Marburg) spoke on the aspect of sexual violence as a war crime in the post-World War II cases in the Philippines.  He used this feature of the trials to outline the similar approaches taken by the governments of both the US and the newly-established Republic of the Philippines. Rebecca Gidley (Australian National University) presented on the ongoing trials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Pointing out that some of the more hopeful ideals associated with Transitional Justice process do not seem to apply in the case of the Khmer Rouge crimes, she outlined how the current government uses the court to control the historical narrative produced.

Rebecca Gidley (Australia National University) talking about the Khmer Rouge trials

The second panel of the day started with a theoretical approach to Transitional Justice presented by Gisele Iecker de Almeida (Ghent University) who spoke about the idea of Transitional Justice as a toolbox. She outlined the different and sometimes conflicting aims the various Transitional Justice mechanism try to achieve.  Ann-Sophie Schoepfel-Aboukrat (Heidelberg University) presented her research on the French trials in Indochina following the Langson massacre. The focused on the role of Transitional Justice mechanism in ongoing conflicts and raised the question of potential negative impacts of the pursuit of transitional justice in such situation.

Aiko Otsuka (Cambridge University) opened the next panel on individual and collective narratives in Transitional Justice with her research on how the Japanese government engaged in writing war history and creating new historical narratives in the immediate post-WWII period. André Hertrich (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg) continued by comparing the musealization of the Nuremberg Trial Memorium and the Tokyo Trial Ichigaya Memorial. In the subsequent discussion the participants deliberated how the trials were generally perceived in Germany and Japan and questions concerning Transitional Justice in both countries.

Professor Jau-hwa Chen (Soochow University) closed the last panel by introducing her research on the topic of "transitional injustice". She distinguished between historical injustice and injustice that emerges out of wrong responses to historical injustice and analyzed local discourses about transitional injustice in South Africa and Taiwan.

Day 3: Closing Talk with Geoffrey Robertson QC

The conference ended with a closing talk delivered by Geoffrey Robertson Q.C., a leading human rights lawyer and a UN war-crimes judge. In his keynote titled "An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?", Geoffrey Robertson argued that the horrific events of 1915, namely the death of 1.5 million of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government, constituted the crime against humanity that is known today as genocide. In his speech he explained how democratic countries can combat genocide denial without denying free speech.

Speaker Geoffrey Robertson QC next to co-organiser Valentyna Polunina

Additional Information

About the workshop

The workshop "Transitional Justice - The Role of Historical Narrative in Times of Transitions" took place at the Karl Jaspers Centre from May 15 to 17, 2015. It was funded as a Graduate Student Workshop by the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies (GPTS) together with the four Research Areas of the Cluster "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". With this funding, doctoral students are given the opportunity to conceptualize, organize and implement an event by themselves according to their and their peer's needs. While the workshop was organised by doctoral students, it was open for participation by senior and junior scholars.

About the organisers and authors of this report

The workshop was organised by Anja Bihler and Valentyna Polunina, who are both doctoral students at the Cluster Junior Research Group A16 "Transcultural Justice" which is lead by by Dr. Kerstin von Lingen. Anja Bihler conducts research on Chinese war crime trials between 1946 and 1948, while Valentyna Polunina focusses on Soviet war crime trials policy.

About the photographer

All pictures were taken by Raffaela Graf, who is student research assistant at the Junior Research Group "Transcultural Justice".

The participants at the workshop