Support actions that include civil society actors from the beginning
Key Finding: Most funding for TJ goes to state or UN bodies; in many countries, civil society actors are woefully underfunded and excluded from initial strategy setting, which may have negative effects on the local ownership and legitimacy of a TJ process and its potential for fostering social change.
One of the primary goals of TJ is to promote trust between state institutions and society (and, more specifically, victims), as well as between citizens. Civil society actors in transitioning contexts play a key trust-building role, through their functions as investigators of abuse, monitors of state action, advocates for victims and communities, etc. But in many cases, only a small proportion of all funds for TJ go to civil society actors. This means that they are usually drastically underresourced and unable to foster meaningful change.
"Democracy is not like development work - you don’t build a road and then see it. It takes time - civic education, etc., takes time."
Neglecting to engage a wide and diverse swath of civil society from the outset can undermine the very goals TJ initiatives seek to achieve. One example of this is the initial failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to engage effectively with local communities, resulting in the public’s lack of awareness of basic facts about the crimes, as well as local media manipulation of the tribunal’s image. When BiH established its national-international hybrid tribunal, the War Crimes Chamber (WCC), in 2005, it initially sought to correct this failing. It helped establish a civil society–led Court Support Network that would mediate directly with affected communities and victim groups, with the objective of enhancing local ownership of the criminal justice process. Internal battles and a lack of dedicated funding, however, led almost immediately to a weakening of this network. The court decided instead to engage in a more narrow strategy passively to provide public information rather than actively to engage communities and victims. Several years later, in response to what was recognized as a general public relations disaster for the court, which was perceived as biased (especially against Serbs), the WCC again shifted course and realized that establishing local ownership was critical to its mission.
"We found it very difficult to mobilize funds (for CSO activity)… even $10,000, which would have made a huge difference to an NGO."
Rethinking funding ratios among different TJ initiatives, and also including civil society actors in donor and government priority- and strategy-setting from the beginning, are important ways to ensure that the needs of stakeholders and relevant communities are reflected in key national policies and TJ or donor-country strategies. These actions help build relationships early, enhancing connections between TJ initiatives and the people they are intended to serve.
International best practice emphasizes the need for broad consultations with civil society before a TJ process begins, as has happened recently in Tunisia. Interviewees from both civil society and the donor community stressed that when civil society perspectives were included in initial decision-making processes, it often improved long-term collaboration both among civil society actors and between civil society and the state; it may also set civil society actors up as legitimate partners with (or counterweights to) the state. Attention should be paid to working with a diverse set of civil society actors, so that TJ is not “captured” by a small group of capital-based elites, but rather enjoys wider legitimacy.