The United Nations University’s Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR) and the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT) recently undertook a DFID-supported research project titled “The Limits of Punishment: Transitional Justice and Violent Extremism”. The project sought to understand if, when and how transitional justice, in combination with other conflict resolution tools, can contribute to transitions away from conflict in settings affected by major jihadist groups. Specifically, it aimed to answer two questions:
What are the effects of current approaches toward punishment and leniency for individuals accused of association with jihadist groups in fragile and conflict-affected states?
What factors should policymakers consider in designing alternative and complementary strategies leveraging transitional justice tools to better contribute to sustainable transitions away from conflict?
To answer the first question, the project undertook three fieldwork-based case studies that assessed nationally-led approaches to individuals accused of having been associated with: al Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. The case studies look at a broad range of formal and informal mechanisms of punishment and leniency; The case studies look at a broad range of formal and informal mechanisms of punishment and leniency; examine the risks of excessively heavy-handed and indiscriminate approaches that penalise broad sectors of local populations; and assess the quality and limitations of existing leniency programs.
To answer the second question, IFIT’s Law and Peace Practice Group – a group of leading transitional justice experts – analysed the empirical evidence of the case studies in light of broader lessons learned from decades of international practice in the field of transitional justice. On this basis, the Group developed a framework to assist national policymakers and practitioners – as well as their international partners – in applying transitional justice tools as part of a broader strategy to resolve conflicts involving groups deemed violent extremist.
Having successfully completed Phase 1, UNU-CPR and IFIT are now undertaking an action-oriented Phase 2 aimed at more systematically disseminating and maximising policy uptake of the research in affected countries. This will help ensure that Phase 1’s research more directly reaches its key audiences: national policymakers and practitioners in conflict-affected states facing the challenges posed by violent extremist groups; international financial and technical assistance providers in these countries; and the broader expert community working on counter-terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism in these countries.
This portion of Phase 2 will entail a trip to Iraq by the research team to meet with policymakers, civil society and experts about the research findings.