Advancing the transitional justice agenda (2) | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Advancing the transitional justice agenda (2)

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) describes transitional justice as “a response to systematic or widespread violations of human rights. It seeks recognition for victims and promotion of possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy.” The word “transitional” is used here to underscore its processes of transforming societies that have gone through periods of massive atrocities and violations of human rights, to help the members of these societies recover from a dark and violent past and bring them to a brighter, more peaceful future. In many countries experiencing atrocities associated with despotic and autocratic leaders, the process of transition can take place over so many years or even decades.

Transitional justice mechanisms facilitate the process of healing and reconciliation in societies that have been deeply divided by long years of violent conflicts, and scarred by experiences of having been victims of emblematic violations of human rights, like massacres and similar atrocities. Perpetrators of these atrocities are usually security agents of the state, like the military, the police and other government-organized paramilitaries.


Much needed political and security sector reforms can be installed as part of the transitional justice agenda. Among these is the process of “lustration” or purging, like the one initiated in the Ukrainian republic after a revolution that deposed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Accordingly, all government officials associated with the deposed president, including civil servants active in the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union prior to 1991 were prevented from assuming any government post. While this process created more conflicts in the ensuing years of its implementation in Ukraine, it can be a model for any country wishing to adopt security sector reforms. Such reforms can guarantee that past atrocities will not be repeated in present or in the future.

If the Philippines adopts the lustration process, those who are held accountable for emblematic cases of human rights violations, like military commanders known to have ordered massacres will be barred from being appointed to any civil service-regulated posts. Police officers who committed acts of brutality against civilians will forever be barred from becoming government officials in any electoral or appointive positions.


Governments are duty bound to satisfy the claims of community members who have suffered inordinately from having been victimized by the state’s security agents. Victims and their survivors need to know the truth about why an atrocity was committed against them and their relatives, and on how the victims died or suffered. Such truth can be ferreted through the establishment of a government-mandated truth commission. Without a body created for truth telling, perpetrators will not be identified for their complicity and accountability. Victims and survivors will not be able to get the justice they deserve, in terms of reparations and other compensation for the rehabilitation and restoration of their communities before the atrocities took place.

A truth commission will also pave the way for the process of healing and reconciliation, thereby promoting a future characterized by more tolerance and understanding, thus leading to durable peace. This is especially relevant for communities in Mindanao, especially in the Bangsamoro, that have suffered heavily from years of violent vertical and communal conflicts.

Ensuring security sector reforms that truly transform military and police institutions can instill respect for the rule of law, thus preventing impunity. When these institutions truly carry out their mandate to protect the people, nurture civic responsibility and respect of human rights for everyone, then constituents will be assured that past atrocities will no longer recur in the future.

Advancing transitional justice agenda in next year’s elections should help us decide who we want our next set of leaders to be. Will we allow known human rights violators and their family members to lead us back to another dark period in our lives? Will we have a strong resolve to purge these people out of any electoral post, and put in place officials who have shown high levels of integrity and respect for the rule of law? The choice is yours and ours.

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