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Civil society advocacy is a familiar element of the transitional justice field today. From the United Nations to grassroots organizations, there is a popular, shared chorus advocating for civil society ownership of, and participation in, transitional justice processes. Yet, at the same time, the field is facing a crisis of legitimacy with accusations that transitional justice is a creature of the Hague, Geneva and New York, alienated from local social movements and at odds with local ownership of transitional justice processes. This paper seeks to address this apparent paradox by critically examining the approach to civil society that travels in the transitional justice field. It argues that the transitional justice field’s approach to civil society can itself participate in logics and practices that undermine the space for dissent, disempower the most vulnerable and facilitate approaches that echo colonial, civilizational missions. This paper situates the dominant approach to civil society in the winds of global governance that propel transitional justice forward, and seeks to understand the politics of this approach to civil society, and the work it does.
This public lecture will be followed by morning tea.
Vasuki Nesiah is Associate Professor of Practice at New York University. Her main areas of research include the law and politics of international human rights and humanitarianism, with a particular focus on transitional justice. Her past publications have engaged with international feminisms and the history of colonialism in international law. She has also written on the politics of memory and comparative constitutionalism, with a particular focus on law and politics in South Asia. Her most immediate project includes a volume which she is co-editing with Luis Eslava and Michael Fakhri, A Global History of Bandung and Critical Traditions in International Law (Cambridge University Press). Nesiah continues as core faculty in Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) and has taught in the IGLP workshops for over six years. She is one of the founding members of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), and has been an active participant in this global network of scholars for two plus decades. Before entering the academy full time, Professor Nesiah spent several years in practice at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), where she worked on law and policy issues in the field of post-conflict human rights for over seven years. Originally from Sri Lanka, she earned her BA in Philosophy and Government at Cornell University and her JD and SJD, an interdisciplinary doctorate in public international law. Professor Nesiah's publications can be accessed at http://nyu.academia.edu/VasukiNesiah.
This public lecture is part of a two day workshop on transitional justice and civil society.