Education and Transitional Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding
Sustainable Development Goals: 4, 16
- SDG 4 - Quality Education
- SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
ICTJ and UNICEF collaborated on a research project to explore the questions: 1) How can transitional justice contribute to peacebuilding goals by shaping the reform of education systems and facilitating the reintegration of children and youth into those systems? 2) How can education serve to promote the goals of transitional justice by expanding its outreach agenda and helping change a culture of impunity into one of respect for human rights and the democratic rule of law? This project involved the commissioning of 17 papers, including case and thematic studies, and the organization of a two-day workshop in New York in October 2014, where a group of experts on education, transitional justice, child protection, and peacebuilding discussed the findings. Additionally, background research and interviews were conducted with education specialists and transitional justice practitioners. Th is report summarizes the project’s key findings.
In the past two decades, the relationship between education and conflict has received increasing attention from researchers, policy makers, and practitioners working in the fields of education, child protection, and peacebuilding. This relationship has been considered in two directions, regarding: first, the impact of conflict on education; and second, the ways in which education can both trigger conflict and contribute to establishing peace.
Most work on education reconstruction after periods of conflict or authoritarianism has adopted a development or peacebuilding perspective, which is understandable, given the clear role that education can play in promoting socioeconomic development and preventing the recurrence of armed violence or repression. But largely missing from this analysis has been an examination of the specific legacies of repressive policies and human rights violations in the political culture of a country—legacies that are particularly relevant in contexts where education was used to divide people or discriminate against certain groups for ideological purposes or where conflict resulted in lost educational opportunities for children.
The contribution that education can make to peace depends not only on measures such as the physical reconstruction of schools, the reincorporation of young people into the education system, and school curricula that promote universal values of tolerance and social cohesion, but also on the sensitivity of reforms and programs to the legacies of past injustices in the education sector itself and the public culture.
Transitional justice, understood as judicial and non-judicial measures that seek to promote accountability and redress for massive violations of human rights, is increasingly recognized as a fundamental part of peacebuilding efforts. Combined with other sets of policies, and to the extent that it provides recognition to victims and helps to restore civic trust in state institutions and among citizens, transitional justice can help to strengthen the rule of law, address grievances among affected communities, and prevent the recurrence of violations. In contrast, societies that choose not to address past human rights abuses or other forms of severe trauma (including their root causes and enduring consequences) risk undermining their efforts of socioeconomic reconstruction and their transition to a more democratic and peaceful future.
In the context of coming to terms with an abusive past, in addition to being something that should be valued for its own sake and not only for its instrumental benefits, education for its part has at least two important goals. First, it should contribute to developing children’s abilities and skills for participating in a country’s productive and sociopolitical realms. Second, “In a post-war society, education is charged with the task of enhancing the capacity of citizens, especially—but not only—adolescents and children, to think critically about the present and the past, so they can foresee and construct a better future.”
While some have called attention to the need for a more systematic consideration of the relationship between education and transitional justice, to date neither education reform nor the teaching of the recent past has been treated with the seriousness it deserves.
In response, ICTJ and UNICEF collaborated on a research project to explore the questions: 1) How can transitional justice contribute to peacebuilding goals by shaping the reform of education systems and facilitating the reintegration of children and youth into those systems? 2) How can education serve to promote the goals of transitional justice by expanding its outreach agenda and helping change a culture of impunity into one of respect for human rights and the democratic rule of law?
This project involved the commissioning of 17 papers, including case and thematic studies, and the organization of a two-day workshop in New York in October 2014, where a group of experts on education, transitional justice, child protection, and peacebuilding discussed the findings. Additionally, background research and interviews were conducted with education specialists and transitional justice practitioners. This report summarizes the project’s key findings.
The aim of this report is to provide practitioners and policy makers in both transitional justice and education with conceptual clarity and practical guidance for developing synergies between their respective fields in responding to past human rights violations. Drawing from a comparative approach that examines different experiences throughout the world, this report does not offer a blueprint for addressing past injustices through education, but, rather, considerations that should be taken into account when framing policy that is based on the particularities of a given context.
The report looks at how a transitional justice framework can play an important role in identifying educational deficits related to the logic of past conflict and repression and informing the reconstruction of the education sector. It also looks at how formal and informal education can facilitate and sustain the work of transitional justice measures. Section I, which sets out the report’s framework, offers a discussion of what it means to consider transitional justice and education as separate but related elements of societal responses to injustices associated with massive human rights violations, and the contribution that synergies between the two fields can make to establish sustainable peace and prevent the recurrence of abuses. This section, thus, poses the question of what a transitional justice approach brings to the role of education in peacebuilding.
Section II maps out the different components of education reconstruction in which a transitional justice framework can be expected to make a difference. This includes incorporating lessons from transitional justice processes into educational curricula; increasing access to education through reparations or redress measures; and shaping school culture and governance, pedagogy, teaching tools, and teacher capacity and training.
The next three sections consider a range of political and material challenges that actors are likely to face in trying to link transitional justice and education and discuss some strategic considerations for implementing proposed ideas more effectively and sustainably. Section III highlights the different actors that can play a role in linking transitional justice and education, including transitional justice bodies, civil society groups, school communities, and government, each of which can be an agent of change or an obstacle. Section IV examines the more capacity- and resource-based constraints that efforts to address the past through education are likely to face. Section V emphasizes the importance of identifying opportunities for change while maintaining realistic expectations for the change that can be achieved.
Section VI distills our findings to a set of guidance points for relevant actors. However, in offering guidance about the kind of change being proposed and potential steps, it is important to remember that policies aimed at addressing past injustice through education are very likely to be contested. The specific context will influence the level of this contestation as well as the usefulness of any recommendations, and so contextual analysis will be a critical first step. The guidance offered here must be considered with regard to each unique context. It cannot be assumed, for example, that all communities will desire full integration of schools or support incorporating a justice agenda into classroom learning. Some types of opposition to such efforts, we argue, should be challenged, but some may be legitimate and/or unlikely to be overcome. These kinds of tensions between the principles of justice being advocated and the reality in which measures based on those principles may be proposed, designed, and implemented must be kept in mind. That said, the research conducted for this project suggests that a context- specific approach to addressing the past through education can make a valuable contribution to peacebuilding.