False Dichotomies of Transitional Justice: Gender, Conflict and Combatants in Colombia
[Shana Tabak is a Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Law at The George Washington University Law School, where she is also a Friedman Fellow with the International Human Rights Clinic.]
Although the field of transitional justice has made great strides in addressing harms perpetrated against women in the aftermath of conflict, this paper argues that transitional justice mechanisms mistakenly rely on three false dichotomies with regard to the role of gender in conflict. In order for transitional justice mechanisms to achieve success in reordering society, promoting justice, and overcoming past trauma and human rights abuse, it is crucial that these assumptions be questioned, both by scholars and practitioners. Taking as a case study Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict, in which one-fourth of combatants are women, this paper addresses the problem of reintegrating female combatants in Colombia’s violent conflict into civil society after they have left armed groups. In doing so, it demonstrates the centrality of exposing these false assumptions regarding the nature of transitional justice in achieving sustainable post-conflict structures, and potentially, in preventing conflict before it begins.
Reflecting on the ways in which transitional justice may fail female combatants, this paper exposes three central concerns as inaccurate reflections of the realities of both men and women affected by conflict. These false dichotomies are (1) between the conflict era and the post conflict era; (2) between public and private space; and (3) between the commonly-employed legal concepts of victim and perpetrator. In order to fully examine the complexities of these dynamics, this article synthesizes contemporary feminist scholarly work on transitional justice with detailed research on gender in Colombia. It first traces the evolution of feminist thinking on transitional justice mechanisms, and then contributes to the existing feminist scholarship on transitional justice by examining the additional complication of women who may have suffered the horrors of conflict, but who have also been perpetrators of some of these horrors. Utilizing detailed research on the experiences of both Colombian women and men, it critiques transitional justice approaches from a gender-oriented perspective, and seeks to imagine what a gender-inclusive strategy might look like in Colombia.
The full article is available for download here.