Beatrix Austin


Beatrix Austin is Head of Department Conflict Transformation Research, of which she was interim director from April to October 2019. She manages various work strands, among which the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation is the longest running flagship publication project. As a researcher, her interests focus on issues of dealing with the past and reconciliation as well as on linking theory and practice in conflict transformation. As a scholar practitioner, she specializes in dialogue facilitation and accompanying transformative learning and reflection processes.

Prior to her work with Berghof Foundation, she worked for Search for Common Ground and International Alert, among others. She is a founding member of the Vienna Conflict Management Partners and a member of the training team of the Vienna School of Negotiation. Beatrix graduated with an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and holds a diploma in Political Science/International Relations from the Free University in Berlin.

Future Needs Peacebuilding Blog

FriEnt is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the launch of a new blog series. The Future needs-Peacebuilding Blog examines the future challenges and opportunities of peacebuilding for local, national and international actors. Authors from academia, policy level and the practical field share new perspectives and impulses on seven topic areas relevant to the
future of peacebuilding.

Issue: Transitional Justice

As present and future become increasingly uncertain, we need to define more clearly the role for transitional justice in future peace building processes. The shaping of historical narratives, the handling of historical legacies and the orientation towards prevention are three aspects which are hightlighted by our authors as essential future oriented elements for the field. This has to include dealing with the past processes in the world as well as in Germany in order to promote truly universal joint learning on how to counter the main driving forces for injustices and gross violations of human rights happening – again.

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The past should not dictate the future

Global Learning Hub for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation
08. März 2022
Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre | EC-Audiovisual Service

“We need to address both the extent to which historical events shape the collective emotions and worldviews of the present, and the extent to which power-hungry politicians are willing to manipulate those emotions and instrumentalize those worldviews to lend the appearance of legitimacy to their political goals.” - Werner Wintersteiner

In February 2022, in the first week after Russia has invaded Ukraine and started a full-scale war on an independent state, who wants to talk about transitional justice or reconciliation? In such a situation, how can we reflect on dealing with the past, when the present and an uncertain future full of threat demand all our attention and absorb most of our energy? Will this area of conflict transformation and peacebuilding – a hallmark of FriEnt’s work over a substantive part of the past 20 years – be pushed to the sidelines of political debate and decision making, in favour of “the hard facts” of foreign, security and defense policy? The short answer is no. It would be ill-advised and short-sighted to turn our back on transitional justice and reconciliation. Both government and civil society, as well as academia, are well equipped to maintain focus and increase joint learning on how to counter the main driving forces for injustices and gross violations of human rights happening – again.

Dealing with the past

The terms “transitional justice”, “reconciliation”, “dealing with the past” are all associated with somewhat different origins, goals and connotations. What unites them is the understanding that past violence shapes both the present and future of political and social community. From the human rights and accountability perspective, that is calling for justice in the face of being deeply wronged and wounded, through the humane and sometimes spiritual perspective of being in need and capable of forgiveness and rebuilding relationships and connection, to a pragmatic and realistic assessment that it is necessary to reform sufficiently the state and society’s institutions – all these are needs experienced and, however imperfectly, met in the aftermath of crimes against humanity and significant violence. Left unaddressed, injustice and violence never simply disappear, as David Bloomfield has once underlined.

Much of this has been known and often reiterated in expert circles. But with the resurgence of war as a means of imperial politics, many may ask if the concept has not lost its currency.

On the contrary!

The past is shown over and again to be used and (mis-)used in political narratives that aim to justify and mobilize. The war on Ukraine is simply one of the latest examples, in which recurrence to old glories and horrors are interwoven with a sophisticated media and social messaging toolkit. Only if we become literate and articulate in detecting and understanding the way in which such historical narratives can work to fuel violence, can we hope to successfully work on building and hearing different narratives, ones that support community and shared problem-solving.

Also, through means of technology and social media, historical narratives have been amplified and have proliferated, often in separated “echo chambers”. Governments, civil society organizations and the public frequently find themselves confronted with layers of information which need to be carefully assessed and analyzed. To bring actors together in this is another important task for the field of dealing with the past.

And finally, current political developments – in Syria as much as in Ukraine – remind us starkly over and again that what has been gained in the past decades – a core of global human rights, a base of principles and values, interdependent alliances – needs to be defended by means of justice, accountability, but also forgiveness and mercy. The guarantee of non-recurrence does not come cheap. But preventive politics, which have spectacularly failed in the places we are now staring at, must be re-envisioned. Even so, it remains paramount for our common survival.

Linking experiences in TJ with current and future processes

Considering the rise of violent conflict around the globe, the need for experience-based knowledge generation, partnership and collaboration is as high as ever. Armament might bring a feeling of greater valiance and security; it will not bring peace nor safety. Yet, despite extensive academic literature and research on transitional justice and numerous initiatives in the field of dealing with the past and reconciliation, the gap between theory, policy and practice persists. Moreover, state and civil society actors from the global South have shown an increased interest to gain insights from Germany’s dealing with the past processes, institutions and experiences. And, they have a wealth of knowledge from their own societies and processes that need to be shared, and that can now, in turn, enrich and help the societies of Europe and the US as they undergo their own fresh reckoning with the past.

In partnership with the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Berghof Foundation hosts the Global Learning Hub for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation to link German experiences in dealing with the past with current and future transitional justice processes and to shape partnerships for global exchange for actors from the global North and South.

The Hub wants to deepen the understanding of complex peacebuilding processes, to develop innovative approaches to dealing with the past and reconciliation and to enhance policy and practice in the field. It aims ultimately to create a central and lively place for mutual learning with the aim of creating more sustainable and scalable transitional justice and peacebuilding approaches that can be adapted to diverse needs, contexts and challenges and co-shaped by a variety of stakeholders.

Dealing with the past paves the way into the future. Thus, FriEnt’s Transitional Justice expertise of the past 20 years is fit for the future and we are counting on you as a strong partner.

Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden und Entwicklung (FriEnt) ist ein Zusammenschluss von staatlichen Organisationen, kirchlichen Hilfswerken, zivilgesellschaftlichen Netzwerken und politischen Stiftungen.


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E-Mail: info@frient.de

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