25 March 2022 — Asia Justice and Rights once again is holding a month-long campaign billed as the #MonthOfTruth. The annual agenda kicked off on the International Women’s Day on 8 March, and ran up until 24 March on the International Day of the Right to Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. In its latest iteration, we took the theme of ‘victim-centred participation’, highlighting how meaningful participation of survivors might transform the way practitioners and policymakers approach the issue and their understanding of transitional justice.
This year we reached out to the victims, survivors, partners, and civil societies from different countries to better understand how ‘participation’ can continue to develop meaningfully and be defined by the victims themselves. When we work with survivors, partners, and civil societies on the ground, we emphasise their participation in various activities—listening, accommodating, and ensuring we are not in the spotlight. While the benefits of their participation are apparent, there is much room for reflection on the dynamics of the participation on the ground, especially for victims and survivors.
In our research, conducted alongside Duayjai Group and Cross-Cultural Foundation in Southern Thailand, it is found that women survivors felt acquiring reparation is complicated, time-consuming, and fraught with discrimination. While they were the ones who suffered in the conflict, they were not given a chance to participate in designing the reparation programs. Hence, the program provided was incompatible with women survivors’ needs and lives on the ground.
The existing procedures and rules do not adequately facilitate women survivors, especially survivors of sexual violence, resulting in women feeling neglected. Essential programs for women survivors, such as mental or psychosocial reparation, are also excluded from the scheme. One survivor, trapped and burdened by the system on top of their day to day responsibilities, even describes…
“…we have to go on our lives and take care of our children. And (we need to have) legal knowledge on rights, equality, and justice. I feel (that it’s) unfair. From what I’ve come across the law is unfair, unequal during trial”
In Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, Bangladesh, Faishal (a pseudonym), one of the male survivors, shared his story of healing and finding community in the camp. Faishal emphasises the importance of survivors’ participation in the community to achieve the desired peace process. On one occasion, he said…
“However, rather than cursing the darkness, we choose to light the candle. In the camps, we create the community learning program, so Rohingya youth can participate in learning and building tolerance as well as the peace process.”
And then there is Lana, a woman refugee from the same camp, who found solace and solidarity through meeting other women survivors. She found ways to learn about human rights with the community and hopes to pass the knowledge on to her children and the next generation to equip them with tools to create a better future.
During the campaign, we were also delighted to share the stories of our team and friends in Timor-Leste who had the opportunity to engage with various local civil society organisations as part of their Learning Consortium initiative to fight for an equal world and to prevent gender-based violence. Previously, AJAR has posted several videos of the Learning Consortium on our Facebook page, where the members share their enthusiasm for organisational capacity building and gaining knowledge on gender-based violence. In Timor-Leste, it is reported that gender-based violence accounts for the most reported crimes and at least 59% of women experience intimate partner violence at least once in their life.
The Learning Consortium initiative takes notes of the varied experiences that women and gender minorities may suffer – it is one of our aims to ensure the knowledge materials and resources to combat gender-based violence reach local organisations across eight municipalities in the country. Members of the Consortium represent female survivors of gender-based violence, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, people with disabilities, and men and boys.
“…Many victims begin by hiding the truth about their real situation. … It’s not just about creating trust with women to help them go through the process of prosecution: it’s also about explaining to their menfolk what they have done (to the women) and the consequences of their actions.”
Leading up to the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Violations and for Dignity of Victims on 24 March as well as to close the campaign, AJAR also joined hands with civil society in Myanmar to share reflections on conflict and our experiences of working with survivors.