News / Middle East

    Transitional Justice Elusive in Arab Spring Nations

    Egyptian riot police take up positions outside the building where former president Hosni Mubarak is being tried in connection with the killing of Arab Spring protesters.
    Egyptian riot police take up positions outside the building where former president Hosni Mubarak is being tried in connection with the killing of Arab Spring protesters.
    Mohamed Elshinnawi
    When Arab Spring revolutionaries took to the streets more than two years ago, they might not have had issues like reparations, truth-seeking or accountability on their minds, but among the ideals that motivated many of them was a hunger for justice.
     
    Legal experts often call the process transitional justice and define it as the redress citizens seek for injustice or human rights abuses they or others sustained at the hands of a former repressive regime or as a result of conflict.

    By definition, transitional justice can come only after a regime change, or a cease fire of some kind.

    In the case of Arab Spring revolts, some authoritarian regimes did fall and new governments took their place, but overall, the changes most revolutionaries had hoped for have not happened.

    Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international relations at George Washington University, says transitional justice is necessary for a country and its people to move forward.

    Brown says transitional justice includes the prosecution of offenses committed under former regimes, reparations for victims, the establishment of truth commissions and the implementation of reforms in both the judiciary and law enforcement sectors.

    These mechanisms have helped South Africa, the former Yugoslavia and countries in Latin America establish political stability and launch the economic development they needed to move ahead toward democracy. Legal and political experts say these steps have played a large part in addressing civic grievances, reconciling adversarial groups and building or restoring public trust in government.
     
    Among the Arab Spring countries that have seen regime change are Egypt, Libya and Yemen, but the experts say none of them have fully implemented transitional justice mechanisms.
     
    In a recent presentation before Egypt’s upper legislative chamber, the Shura Council, Appeals Court Judge Adel Maged spoke about the importance of transitional justice but said few, if any, took his words to heart.
     
    “If there was a real political will, Egypt could have avoided the current political polarization and abuses of human rights after the revolution,” Maged said.
     
    After the revolution that forced Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, Egyptian courts have put the long-time leader on trial for his alleged involvement in the killing of protesters during the uprising, and for using his position of power for personal financial gain. The trial has been going on for more than a year now as prosecutors struggle to produce solid evidence against the former president.
     
    Claudio Cordone, Middle East/North Africa program director at the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, says justice in Egypt leaves much to be desired.
     
    “There have been many more trials of protesters and dissidents than of police officers and others who were involved in the repression,” Cordone said. “The trial of Mubarak was criticized for going after only a few people and perhaps not with the best of evidence.”
     
    Cordone also said he is not convinced that Libya is moving in the right direction either.
     
    “The biggest immediate challenge [in Libya] is that thousands of detainees remain held by various [revolutionary] armed groups,” Cordone said. “We find it problematic [as] a law was passed granting amnesty to revolutionaries who had committed crimes.”
     
    Rays of hope
     
    Cordone is more optimistic about Yemen, where he says positive steps are being taken. He noted that Yemen’s new government is considering a draft law to establish a truth commission that would look into abuses committed by the past regime and to set up a reparations program for victims.
     
    A woman waves a Tunisia flag during a rally to protest against religious and political violence in Tunis, Oct. 22, 2012.A woman waves a Tunisia flag during a rally to protest against religious and political violence in Tunis, Oct. 22, 2012.
    x
    A woman waves a Tunisia flag during a rally to protest against religious and political violence in Tunis, Oct. 22, 2012.
    A woman waves a Tunisia flag during a rally to protest against religious and political violence in Tunis, Oct. 22, 2012.
    The Tunisian government, too, has taken the first tentative steps toward a transitional justice strategy, he said.
     
    “The Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice launched a process of consultation at the national level asking people what they think should be done in terms of truth, reparations, criminal justice and institutional reform, with the idea of drafting legislation that defines these measures.”

    Challenges ahead

    Still, some experts say even countries that implement transitional justice mechanisms will inevitably face challenges.

    Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, says Tunisia could be an example of that.
     
    “Remnants of the old regime remain opposed to transitional justice, trying to prevent the unveiling of the truth, and escape punishment of abuse and corruption perpetrators,” Masmoudi said. “The other important challenge is time. The victims of the past are asking for recognition, reparation, and persecution of the culprits immediately.” 
     
    If all goes well, Masmoudi says Tunisia could become a model for post-Arab Spring nations. He noted that authorities in Tunisia have so far been able to avoid the political polarization found in Egypt by taking their time to write a functioning constitution that is based on popular consensus.
     
    “The Tunisian Constituent Assembly would vote on each article separately, and then would vote on the entire constitution as a package with at least two-thirds of the vote to be adopted,” he explained. “Tunisia planted the seeds of a comprehensive transitional justice process with the blessings of political parties, civil society and ordinary people.”

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora