Gendered Transitional Justice and the Non-state actor

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Catherine O'Rourke

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This essay starts from the premise that feminist contributions to shaping the field and scope of transitional justice have had a significant effect on broadening and redefining the field. Intervention designed to activate international accountability and to deepen domestic criminalization of sexual violence have been a priority and have had some success. In addition, exploration of the relationship between truth-telling and gender, amnesty and gender, as well as the relationship between gender and peacemaking, were also high on the feminist agenda. More recently, efforts to engender reparations programmes have brought light and heat to a range of harms experienced by women. There is increasing feminist attention to the category of socioeconomic harms, and their disproportionate impact on women. However, we argue that by contrast to feminist efforts to broaden transitional justice’s frame, feminist interventions have assumed a remarkably narrow set of actors and institutions of responsibility. The legal devices common to transitional justice landscape – amnesty, truth recovery, international criminal justice, reconstruction, rule of law reform, security sector reform, and reparations – posit the state as the site and conduit of transition. In this typology, transitional justice is a process by which the state is rendered coherent and legitimate. Throughout, feminist interventions in the field of transitional justice tend to assume the state. By this we mean that the state is seen as the locus for reform, and the entity that is most capable of and necessary to delivering transformation for women. As a result, advocacy for tougher measures of individual criminal accountability for sexual violence, gender analysis in truth commissions, policy prescriptions for reparations programmes, and advocacy for prioritizing an end to gender harms in security sector reform, are all interventions that assume the necessity of a state and its related institutional components. We argue that this singular focus on the state can obscure a range of other important actors relevant to securing transition and may overestimate the extent to which the state is capable of delivering on feminist expectations. To advance our analysis we focus on the Colombian context, assessing in particular the extent to which gendered violence committed by non-state actors can be satisfactorily be accommodated within current state oriented framework. We offer some alternatives to the state-only focus with a particular focus on the contribution of international humanitarian law for the accountability of violations committed by non-state actors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContested Transitions: Dilemmas of Transitional Justice in Colombia and Comparative Experience
Place of PublicationBogota
PublisherInternational Center for Transitional Justice
ISBN (Print)978-958-99645-0-3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Nov 2010


  • Gender
  • Transitional Justice
  • Feminism
  • State


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