Eduardo Gonzalez


Eduardo Gonzalez is Director of Truth Telling for the Mary Hoch Foundation and works as Convener for Think Peace. He is a Peruvian sociologist with twenty years of experience supporting truth and reconciliation processes around the world. After organizing public victim hearings at his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he served at the International Center for Transitional Justice, where he supported truth and memory processes in all continents, including notable cases like Greensboro, in the US, East Timor, Tunisia, Canada, and many others. As an independent consultant, he has supported reparations and truth processes in Sri Lanka, Mali, Colombia and Finland.

Think Peace Learning and Support Hub combines the perspectives of transitional justice and neuroscience to overcome the legacies of past injustice. Currently, Think Peace works in the United States supporting local truth commissions focused on racial justice. Internationally, Think Peace is focusing on indigenous perspectives and the wisdom of African diasporas regarding truth and healing.

About this blog series

Transitional Justice is a professionalised and internationally accepted policy field. FriEnt's previous Radical-Critical blog series addressed the question if its implicit and explicit foundations still hold good? The follow-up series goes further and asks if its underlying assumptions, patterns of thinking or practices are still valid against the backdrop of historic legacies like slavery or colonialism.

What´s your view

Get in touch with us if you wish to contribute to the series.

Broadening The Past

Decolonizing Our Field
05. Juli 2022
| Unsplash, Ashim D’Silva

The German name for “transitional justice” is “dealing with the past”, a useful notion as it broadens the subject matter of the field. Indeed, the “transitional” clause in the concept seems to latch policies of truth-seeking, reparation, justice and non-repetition to a certain type of scenario: a recent past before a political transition to peace and democracy. But how useful would it be to look into a long past for the efficacy of present-day policies?

In previous entries in this series, Louis Bickford has put in touch the concept of transitional justice with the legacies of colonialism. Would looking into British colonial repression in Kenya help prevent continued abuses in that country today? Can a negotiation between current governments repair the history of German colonial genocide against the Herero peoples in Namibia?

Including the history of colonial oppression into the subject matter of transitional justice seems an overdue task. “Decolonizing” the field of transitional justice could start by challenging the exclusivity of a subject matter focused on a recent past, exceptional in its violence. Decolonizing subject matter would directly require to look into the history of European empires carving up the world for economic exploitation. Such a long duration would show that abuse is anything but exceptional. On the contrary, for vast swathes of humanity the exploitation of territories and bodies resulted in centuries of normalized abuse.

Decolonizing the subject matter shows the limitations of the theoretical framework of transitional justice. How could a framework of human rights suitable for recent periods, deal with the experience of indigenous peoples and racialized communities, with long memories, intergenerational trauma and cyclical conflict?

The Colombian transitional justice system, negotiated between the state and the guerrillas of the FARC in 2016 recognized the need for an “Ethnic chapter”, The perspectives of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and Rom would be fully recognized, with consequences for the operation of a truth commission and a special jurisdiction created to deal with former combatants. The chapter further recognizes the centrality of the territory for the three ethnic communities; territory is not just a scenario, but an interaction of bodies, nature and culture, and, more than a locus, nature is also a victim of abuse.

By challenging concepts that are fundamental in Western legal constructs, like the binarism of nature vs civilization or community vs individual, the transitional justice process in Colombia attempts to decolonize not just the subject matter but also the conceptual framework and the practice. These are challenging concepts on what it means to make justice, how to speak the truth or whether it is possible seek redress after irreparable damage. Incorporating these notions in our practice will transform the key elements of transitional justice.

A third dimension is also possible after tackling the colonial assumptions around the subject matter and the conceptual framework of transitional justice: the actual configuration of the field as such; its institutions, its division of labor and centers of power. The current structure of the field is hardly different from other disciplines and, disturbingly, it appears to be quite similar to the model of extractive industries.

Indeed, universities, think tanks and funders in countries in the Global North extract information from thousands upon thousands of individual victims and their communities, process them into sophisticated mechanisms to treat and analyze data, and produce different forms of knowledge that is later distributed through circuits of discussion that are also managed from the North. The result is the consolidation of differentials of symbolic power, and a narrative where fragile states, societies with authoritarian tendencies, receive the disinterested cooperation of the centers of economic and intellectual power.

Challenging the colonial roots of these structures is much more difficult than expanding the focus of the past under examination, or paying attention to alternative theoretical frameworks. Transitional justice is already a very institutionalized field, with canonical documents, authorized interpreters, skilled practitioners and areas of application. Seeking an inversion of these practices would require, for example, that countries that currently dedicate significant amounts to fund transitional justice in the Global South dedicated similar resources to the examination of their own history of colonial legacies. It would require cooperation agencies, think tanks, universities to dedicate energy and time to examine the violations in their own countries, to decentralize operations and to promote members of oppressed communities to decision-making positions.

Decolonizing transitional justice, then, implies broadening the past; but it also entails the mental structures by which we conceive redress and the institutional circuits in which we discuss and define that past. In transitional justice, in its object, theory and functioning, the past seems to be quite present, changing it is as difficult as it is necessary.

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


Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden

und Entwicklung (FriEnt) c/ o GIZ

Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 36

53113 Bonn

Tel +49 228 4460-1916

E-Mail: info@frient.de

Cookies und der Schutz Ihrer Daten
FriEnt verwendet Cookies, um die Funktionalität der Website zu verbessern, um Ihnen ein besseres Website-Erlebnis zu bieten und um Funktionen für soziale Medien bereitzustellen. Durch die Nutzung dieser Website erklären Sie sich mit der Verwendung von Cookies einverstanden.

Ausführliche Informationen über die Verwendung von Cookies auf dieser Website finden Sie in unserer Datenschutzerklärung. Sie können Ihre Cookie-Einstellungen unten anpassen.