"Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts" Research Programme

Funded by the European Research Council for a period of 4 years (2009-2013) and continuing its mission, the project investigates through detailed ethnographic case studies how legal activity has influenced efforts at peace-building and social reconciliation after the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990’s and the Spanish civil war respectively. In so doing, it also pioneers an Anthropology of ‘Transitional Justice’, Peace-building and International Relations more generally, through the lens of Legal Anthropology.
Beyond the One-Size-Fits-All Model of ‘Transitional Justice’ – conference
Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao, Euskadi, Spain – 28-30 August 2013
(The conference will be held in English with simultaneous translation into Spanish).
Conference Abstract
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the experiment of ‘transitional justice’ has been the extent to which its advocates and practitioners have long reached for a one-size-fits-all model that could anticipate how to coordinate, sequence, and create complementarity between the raft of mechanisms and activities that fall under its banner.  TJ has also long been understood to be over-determined by law, such that criminal prosecutions, constitutional reform and new legislation take precedence, and other ‘extra-legal’ activities – like truth-telling and memorialisation, for example – become overly-legalised and tend to alienate the very people at whom an agenda of social reconciliation is aimed.  The ERC-funded research programmes, ‘Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts:  Transitional Justice and the Legal Shaping of Memory’ (BBSG)  and the ‘Transitional Justice Mapping’ (TJMap) projects aimed to address these issues in a variety of unconventional ways that would prove amenable to pragmatic, policy-oriented outcomes.
This conference is the official conclusion to the BBSG project and aims to open up our own four years of research between Spain and Bosnia and Herzegovina to a more comparative analysis.  Bringing together academics and practitioners involved in ‘transitional justice’ initiatives in a wide variety of international settings, we aim to explore how historical, legal, ethnic, religious, racial, political and national sensibilities – those elements that frame both conflict and post-conflict transition –  can be successfully addressed in moments when exigent interventions are required.
The conference, although not dismissing the legal dimension of ‘transitional justice’ in any way, also aims to re-train attention on those extra-legal mechanisms that prove intrinsic to any consummate ‘transitional justice’ project.  In particular, we want to address questions of economic justice, human security (in the context of post-conflict securititisation), development, memorialisation and what anthropologist Fernando Ferrándiz has referred to as ‘memory work’.  We look forward to a fruitful three days in Bilbao and very much hope that the discussions will be lively and constructive.

Conference Schedule
Day 1- Wednesday 28 August

  • 9-10am:  Registration and coffee
  • 10am-1pm:  Panel 1 – ‘The Cultural Dimension of Transitional Justice’.  The panel will include 25 minute talks from each of the 5 speakers, a 10 minute summary and observations from the Chair, and a 30 minute discussion with the audience of participants (to include a 15 minute coffee break).
  • 1-2:30pm:  Lunch break
  • 2:30-5:30pm:  Panel 2 – ‘The Gender Dimension of Transitional Justice’.  The format will follow the morning session.

Day 2 – Thursday 29 August

  • 10am-1pm:  Panel 3 – ‘Security and Development in Disparate Transitional Justice Contexts’.  The panel will follow the same format as those from the previous day.
  • 1-2:30pm:  Lunch break
  • 2:30-5:30:  Panel 4:  ‘Memory and Memorialisation in Transitional Justice’. The panel will follow the same format as the preceding panels.

The first two days comprise field-based, ethnographic explorations of disparate instances of transitional justice activity, across the globe and along four thematic lines.  From these presentations and the subsequent discussions, we hope that all participants – and the Chairs of each session in particular – will be better prepared to engage in the ‘Forward Look Plenary Session’ that concludes the conference.  (Please see panel abstracts below).
Day 3 – Friday 30 August

  • 10am-12:30pm:  Early Researcher Roundtable.  This important event will see (up to) 10 selected Early Stage Researchers offering their recent work and analyses for consideration in dialogue with (up to) 10 seasoned transitional justice practitioners, from organisations such as the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), TRIAL (Try Impunity Always), DFID, USAid, OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), ICG (International Crisis Group) and the ICTJ (International Centre for Transitional Justice), as well as several more grassroots organisations.  The participation of several of these facilitators has already been explored and/or confirmed as part of our ‘in-kind’ funding initiative.  The programme will be informal and allow for audience discussion and participation, but is also intended as an opportunity for more junior researchers to interact with practitioners from outside of the academy, both to network and to better understand the constraints under which such professionals must realise the goals of transitional justice.
  • 12:30-2pm:  Lunch break
  • 2-3pm:  PhD and Post-doctoral poster session.  This period will allow all participants to introduce themselves to our early stage researchers and apprise themselves of the work that they are undertaking and plan to pursue in the future.
  • 3-5pm:  Forward Look Plenary Session.  This session will comprise 15 minute presentations from each of the panel chairs and aims to summarise what the relevant questions might be for a ‘Post-Conflict Action Framework’, given the thematic areas that they covered and the talks that were offered.  In addition to the four 15 minute talks by the panel chairs, there will be a 15 minute recess for coffee, 30 minutes of audience discussion and a 15 minute summary by the chair.
  • 7-10pm:  Conference dinner

Background to the Conference
The ‘Bosnian Bones, Spanish Ghosts:  Transitional Justice and the Legal Shaping of Memory’ Project 2009-2013  (BBSG)
This conference concludes 4 years of finely detailed empirical and ethnographic work between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Spain, under the auspices of a large grant from the European Research Council.  That work aimed to interrogate the practices and presuppositions of ‘transitional justice’ by examining two apposite cases of ‘transition’ in a European context.
Bosnia (BiH), as we all know, proved the laboratory for ‘transitional justice.’  A conflict (or better put, nexus of multiple conflicts) was ended in a stalemate by international intervention and gave way to a peace-building programme (and subsequent ‘transitional justice’ agenda) ushered in by the Dayton Accord.  The process of social reconciliation was to be characterised by an almost limitless level of transparency and accountability, but harbingered an ongoing era of entrenched ethno-nationalist politics, social stagnation and what I have elsewhere called ‘the Enduring Transition’ in a way that belied some of the concern for accountability to be sure.
In contrast, Spain experienced an overnight transition, but a transition based on national contrivance, the silencing of contestation, and an absolute absence of accountability as articulated by the ‘pacto de olvido’ – the pact of forgetting.  This pact has unravelled from 2005 forward (at least), with the advent of the movement for historical memory, which by coincidence is the very year that many feel BiH’s experiments in transitional justice went into retrograde and gave way to a generalised sense of anomie and alienation.
The BBSG project allowed for an examination of transitional justice more generally, as each context presented a pre and post TJ mentality.  The project team endeavoured to identify successes and failures of both approaches to transition and to thoroughly analyse their costs and benefits for the multiplicity of actors, constituencies , and interests involved.  This framework would try to give a methodological account of how to factor in the historical, ethnic, religious, racial, legal and national specificities of post-conflict contexts in a way that might supersede the one-size-fits-all model of ‘transitional justice.’
To that end, we have invited a variety of practitioners and academics to discuss their work in disparate settings to better inform our own efforts on the PCAF.  We look forward to a productive three days in Bilbao, which we hope will be marked by the constructive criticism and comparative vantages our shared projects very much need – and to lively engagements more generally!
Abstract:  Panel 1 – ‘The Cultural Dimension of Transitional Justice’
This panel takes the amorphous and much-critiqued concept of ‘culture’ as a starting point to explore the complexity and specificities of diverse ‘transitional justice’ contexts.  We hope to identify both common denominators and points of divergence between areas of localised TJ practice in order to shed light on the cultural, historical, ethnic, racial, religious and legal sensibilities that must be taken into account if one hopes to design context-specific programmes of post-conflict intervention.
Abstract:  Panel 2 – ‘The Gender Dimension of Transitional Justice’
If ‘transitional justice’ needs to attend to ‘cultural’ specificity, the contexts of intervention will always present a further complexity derived from gender politics in disparate ‘cultural’ settings.  Differences between gendered experiences of conflict, adjudication and reconciliation add a new layer of particularity, as do the experiences of mass atrocity and peace-building by those diverse sexual orientations.  For this reason, we will focus in this panel on the gendered aspects of TJ and the variety of concerns that cannot be ignored across cultures, across societies, ad across the various intended beneficiaries of TJ activities.
Abstract:  Panel 3 – ‘Security and Development in Disparate Transitional Justice Contexts’
There has been considerable debate inside of the circles of security sector reform and advanced security theory as to whether ‘development’ is being ‘securitised’ or ‘security’ is being ‘developmentalised.’  In the context of post-conflict societies, the yoking or de-coupling of security and development is a crucial point of concern.  Often, economic justice, human security and development have been side-lined in the face of what are understood to be more exigent legal and political concerns.  In this panel, we aim to explore the specificities of the security:development nexus in concrete ethnographic settings to better understand what is at stake in engineering this important interface for TJ startegies nad interventions.
Abstract:  Panel 4 – ‘Memory and Memorialisation in Transitional Justice’
Memory politics (or in some instances, memory management) is often an under-acknowledged keystone of ‘transitional justice.’  The materialisation of memory through acts of memorialisation – sometimes concrete and durable and sometimes performative and enduring only in the social effects they inspire – is increasingly recognised as a central element of ‘transitional justice’ processes.  This panel will examine the terrain of memory and memorialisation and the full breadth of TJ initiatives that answer the calls of post-conflict societies neding to confront pasts marked by wartime atrocity, crimes against humanity and genocide.

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