Transitional Justice and Silencing the Guns in Africa in the Context of COVID-19: Report on the Fourth African Transitional Justice Forum, Virtual Meeting, 26 - 28 October 2020

Africa has been both a nursery and a laboratory for transitional justice ideas and practice for three decades. In recent years, the African Union, regional economic communities and other regional institutions, numerous states and a range of civil society actors have been distilling this experience into an African articulation and approach to transitional justice. Based on this work, the African Union in February 2019 unanimously adopted the Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP). This policy provides a framework and a set of tools for promoting holistic transitional justice, defined as “the various (formal and traditional or non-formal) policy measures and institutional mechanisms that societies, through an inclusive consultative process, adopt in order to overcome past violations, divisions and inequalities and to create conditions for both security and democratic and socio-economic transformation.” The AUTJP looks beyond retributive approaches and draws on traditional, indigenous and community-based practices to address legacies of conflict, governance deficits and development challenges, while considering the gender, intergenerational and ethnocultural dimensions of peace and justice. On 26–28 October 2020, the DPA and CSVR hosted the fourth African Transitional Justice Forum. An inaugural online version of the Forum, the three-day conference addressed the state of transitional justice on the continent, specifically its contribution to the AU’s 2020 theme of the year, “Silencing the Guns,” amid the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Forum panels focused on development, violent extremism, victims’ experiences and fundraising in relation to African-led transitional justice. the Forum discussions indicate that transitional justice needs to look beyond its focus on the state and national processes in order to address the transnational nature of many conflicts in Africa and the complicity of non-state actors in a range of abuses, particularly multinational corporations and private security forces. As the global political economy changes and technological advances occur, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, transitional justice may require a more multisectoral approach—involving cooperation among regional, national, public, private and civic actors—as well as a shift in focus away from the global North towards African-led ideas and practices bolstered by global South–South alliances.11 As the detailed summary of the Forum presentations and discussions in the next section shows, transitional justice in Africa is building on a strong base of knowledge and communities of practice, even as it grapples with the contestation and inertia that tends to mark normative change.