Transitional Justice as a Bridge to a Stable Future

Samar Abdullah Additional support by Fatima Bawazir
Sana’a & Mukalla
Radhya Al-Mutawakel, 46, is president of Mwatana, a Sana’a-based human rights group founded in 2007. Mwatana, a word that refers to citizenry and nationhood, documents human rights abuses, provides legal support to rights abuse victims, and advocates for justice across Yemen. Al-Mutawakel, who has worked in the human rights field since 2004, says a future of peaceful coexistence in Yemen depends on transitional justice, a process involving the country’s reckoning with the effects of violent conflict and striving for reconciliation.
Radhya al-Mutawakel addressing the 3rd conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty in Geneva, September 2017. © Ralf Schlesener / Control Arms

Arabia Felix Magazine: What is the difference between justice and transitional justice? How does the concept of justice change in areas of conflict? 

Radhya Al-Mutawakel: Justice is a broad concept that is not associated with conflict or human rights violations. Transitional justice is the hopeful outcome of violent conflicts, which can be connected to a legacy of human rights violations. Transitional justice must encompass victim compensation, including material and moral compensation, such as attention to the survivors’ educational, economic, and social status. 

AF: What drew you to this work with all the challenges it entails? 

RM: I am driven by a sense of duty to the victims of rights abuses in Yemen. I felt compelled to play a part against the war in some way, so human rights work is my way of resisting all the injustices that have taken place.

AF: How do justice and transitional justice contribute to coexistence? 

RM: Transitional justice refers to the process of emerging from a violent past and ensuring a safe future. This process must be adequately implemented, for example, by addressing the trauma of war and unequivocally exposing the truth, including human rights abuses. This calls for a reform of society that involves the installation of a robust judicial system. That means transitional justice can take years.

AF: Transparency is a crucial element in consolidating justice throughout this process. What role can the media play in this respect? 

RM: Transparency, if exercised within the framework of good governance through all institutions led by the state, will certainly establish and strengthen a safe and stable society. 

As for the media, some platforms in Yemen try to provide an independent reading of developments. The media can foster a public conversation based on coexistence that provides an alternative to the current hate-based discourse. Such constructive dialogue promotes the tenets of justice and human rights instead of a justification for violence.

AF: With the understanding that responsible journalism provides context and offers a plurality of analyses and solutions, how might it contribute to the establishment
of justice?

RM: Responsible, independent media can promote coexistence, which in turn can help end violence and lead to peace. This means not only promoting constructive discourse in the media, but also reporting the truth and focusing on the rights and interests of civilians. The media should also provide insights on the most basic issues, for example: what kind of future do we want for Yemen? How can we end violent conflict once and for all? 

I think we must focus on promoting democratic concepts. Yemenis yearn for the rule of law in a functioning state. Despite the collapse of the judiciary, they prefer the courts over armed authorities. The media can reinforce values and principles Yemenis have been striving to implement for decades. 

AF: What is the first thing to address regarding justice in post-war Yemen? 

RM: Ending the war is not restricted to stopping missiles and bombs; it includes a political agreement that reshapes the country. Apart from the war itself, anything that satisfies the call for human dignity is a priority: gainful employment, water, food security, electricity, mobility, and education. All institutions in Yemen should focus on these priorities according to their expertise. 

AF: Do you see peaceful coexistence in Yemen’s future?

RM: The future of coexistence depends on how we Yemenis rebuild our nation and to what extent we achieve our goals. Yemen has to choose between violence and an end to the war, achieving justice and establishing a state based on democracy, equality and the rule of law.

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