Alla Blaha (UHHRU): “Applying transitional justice principles will allow people to learn the truth about past events without horror stories and embellishments”

We continue the series of short interviews with UHHRU experts on implementation of transitional justice principles in Ukraine.

Alla Blaha, Doctor of Law Sciences, Analytics Department expert at UHHRU.

What are the benefits of transitional justice for Ukraine?

I believe, most importantly it’s understanding. Understanding why the conflict arose and developed; what human rights were violated in the course of the conflict and why; what should be done with those who have committed crimes and what restitution conflict-affected people should get; how to restore the relationship between an individual and the state in such a way that no more human rights violations will occur in the future. We all have to step over our own barriers and move on. Yes, this will be a painful road. Both the people and the government find it hard to let go of their false views, convictions and rationalizations, such as “the fewer know the truth, the better”, “lie, lie and lie for the sake of peace in the state”, “rape has always been a norm in wartime”, “it’s nothing special when soldiers commit violence against civilians”, “I’m just a little guy, there was nothing I could’ve done”, “I did nothing, so why should I consider myself guilty”, “I didn’t mean this to happen, I didn’t know that things would turn out this way”. On the other hand, an honest perspective and, as British lawyer Ruti G. Teitel rightly pointed out, “a clear break from the past lawlessness” could prevent the past from shaping the future: this is the only way to “prevent future crimes, cultivate trust in the new government and state policy and facilitate reconciliation of the parties to the conflict”.

Alla Blaha, Doctor of Law Sciences, Analytics Department expert at UHHRU
Alla Blaha, Doctor of Law Sciences, Analytics Department expert at UHHRU

If Ukrainian politicians adopt the principles of transitional justice, how will it affect ordinary citizens?

As a reminder, transitional justice covers both the detection of crimes committed and prosecution of those responsible as well as thorough analysis of past wars (armed conflicts) and human rights violations. The tools for this include:

  • establishing the truth, i.e. investigating crimes;
  • prosecution of perpetrators and investigation of crimes in international and domestic courts;
  • providing reparations to victims;
  • implementing vetting and institutional reforms of government bodies, courts, law enforcement and armed forces;
  • commemoration and educational activities (e.g. opening memorials and museums).

Accordingly, applying the principles of transitional justice will allow people to find out the truth about past events, without any horror stories or embellishments; to learn the role and conduct of specific individuals in the events; to stop idealizing the past and bring back the sense of justice; to restore people’s trust in the state and reaffirm the path toward democratic values through vetting, and for victims – to have their suffering recognized and get compensated for the damage inflicted on them. Nevertheless, as the experience of other countries shows, the road of transitional justice is a long and difficult one.

Transitional justice is interesting because it requires reforms that will make a repeat of the conflict impossible in the future. Which reform do you consider the most interesting?

I guess, the reforms that hand political levers to democratic institutions. Today’s politicians, officials and functionaries of the highest level see such expressions as “human rights”, “equality of women and men” and “fight against corruption” as “mantras” rather than actual values.

Implementation of transitional justice in Ukraine envisages pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages for the victims of the conflict. What is UHHRU doing for this?

Our Union has been using a people-oriented approach and prioritizing restoration of victims’ rights for many years. In the past, we did this by providing legal assistance and protecting violated human rights in domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Now we have added a few new areas: documenting crimes, primarily those that take place in eastern Ukraine; preparing and publishing analytical materials on the observance of human rights; creating the interactive Memorial Map that contains visualized information about close to 10 thousand dead; and preparing materials for submission to the International Criminal Court and other international bodies.

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