Economic Violence in the Practice of African Truth Commissions and Beyond
JUSTICE AND ECONOMIC VIOLENCE IN TRANSITION, Dustin Sharp, ed., New York: Springer Publications, 2013
49 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012 Last revised: 26 Sep 2013
Date Written: March 27, 2012
Historically, if truth commissions have placed mass atrocities and physical violence in the transitional justice spotlight, issues of equally devastating economic and social justice have received comparatively little attention. To the extent that truth commissions have dealt with economic violence, it has largely been treated as context, useful in helping to understand why physical violence look place, but little more. The marginalization of the economic within the transitional justice agenda serves to distort our understanding of conflict, and the policies thought to be necessary in the wake of conflict. In contrast with these patterns, an increasing number of truth commissions, many of them African, have taken steps to shift economic violence into the foreground of their work. In some cases, they have even identified it as a “root cause” of conflict and included among their recommendations measures intended to address the underpinnings of economic violence. This article will explore the pioneering “jurisprudence” on economic violence of five African truth commissions, Chad, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Kenya, plus East Timor, using the case studies as a prism to explore some of the practical, legal, and policy dilemmas raised by the greater inclusion of economic violence in the transitional justice agenda. I argue that while African truth commissions have made great strides in moving economic violence into the foreground, they rarely frame the issues in question as human rights issues, even where claims of violations of economic and social rights would be strong. This represents a lost opportunity for addressing poverty and other issues of economic violence in the post-conflict context.
Keywords: Transitional Justice, Economic and Social Rights, Africa
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