Nathalia is a second year student in our Global Studies MA program.
My research experience aimed to assess some of the conclusions I reached during the spring semester in the GLBL700 seminar. In particular, I wanted to find evidence –hopefully more than just anecdotal- of the interconnection between development and transitional justice mechanisms. The objective was to nourish my reflections with the point of view of practitioners/experts in different areas of transitional justice (TJ) and strengthen the capstone research project by having additional input to narrow down particular spheres of interconnection.
After conducting the interviews, processing the information, and analyzing it, I can say the objectives were achieved, even though the process was not as smooth as first envisioned.
One challenge was to design the interview questions and how to make sure the questions were clear, that I provided enough context but not to the point where I revealed my own ideas and –even- biases. To overcome that, I reviewed class notes from undergrad and talked to colleges that could guide me in the process. I decided to make a semi-structured interview which would allow me to get into more detail on the issues that the interviewer would bring and give them more space to go further in the area of expertise (truth seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence). However, I wish I would have taken methods class to have been more efficient and feel more confident about the final questions.
Another challenge was deciding which experts I would interview. At first, I thought it would be useful for the research to choose interviewees based on the sector where they work as I intended to understand the specific activities that government officials, NGO’s, international organizations and scholars could identify as spheres of relationship between transitional justice and development. However, while preparing the interview questions, I realized it would be more useful to contact individuals based on their area of expertise in TJ (truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence). Hence, they could provide a deep view of the possible relationships between development and the particular TJ mechanism. I interviewed experts in the areas of reparations, land restitution, truth seeking and justice, who also have worked in different sectors (NGO’s, state, international aid organizations).
Talking to experts on different sectors of transitional justice allowed me to confirm some of the possible spheres of interaction between TJ and development as well as to go deeper into the specifics and the negative implication it has for effective implementation. Within the framework of TJ and development, all the experts mentioned governance as a precondition to the effective implementation of TJ, either truth commissions, tribunals, reparations programs, and non-recurrence policies. Issues related to capacity development of state officials, structure of the state at the national and local (department and municipality) level and coordination between those, as well as weak local governments were identified as some of the main obstacles to effective creation and implementation of TJ programs and policies.
Capacity development was the most common factor stated by the interviewees. It was a new category that literature did not mentioned and it appears to have different layers: the definition of a public servant, their role when implementing a new policy, the desirable level of training and formal education for them, their resistance to change (path dependencies), the politicization of their functions, and the dynamics of the professional level education system. This last one was completely unexpected to me. Some of the experts pointed out the influence that an exclusionary education system can have when interpreting the law, creating policies or implementing them. If the education system is “elitist” and only certain groups of society can benefit from it, those would be the individuals that will have the high education requirements that certain positions will demand to be public servants, hence, depriving the state from alternative points of view, experiences and knowledge; their understanding of society would be limited, therefore, their ability to capture and deliver in the “real world” is also limited. That, as the experts pointed out, is tragic for the implementation of TJ due to the transitory nature of such mechanisms, the need for those to solve conflicts at different levels of society, and to create foundations for the reconstruction of the nation.
Despite the broad spectrum of considerations, these specific spheres of interaction between development and transitional justices allowed me to narrow down the topic of interest to preconditions of governance (rule of law, capacity building) needed for creating and implementing TJ mechanisms. From here, I have been researching the literature on governance, rule of law, and TJ, as well as peace building and governance in order to identify interconnections to further develop my research question. Also, I find it would be more productive to focus on one of the mechanisms of TJ (tribunals or reparations).
Finally, the summer research was an opportunity to ask about managing data. As I gathered information, I needed to find an effective way to process it. Past professional and academic experiences taught me the importance of having a tool to organize and process data, however, I was not sure about which would be the best tool for this particular research. After consulting some colleagues and gathering information, I decided to try Nvivo. It was new to me, so I had to put the time in to train myself to use the program. It is a tool that allows me to create categories according to my needs, see the connections between them, and visualize the concepts. Because of that, I found it helpful and I am planning on using it to process the data for my capstone. Yet, I still need to learn a lot about the program.
Based on all this, I found this summer research fruitful. It gave me the space to question the categories I created based on the preliminary literature review and move forward to more concrete points to explore the possible preconditions needed for effective implementation of TJ mechanisms and think about case studies.