Whereas victims’ rights and demands have gained attention in the practice and scholarship of transitional justice (TJ), victims are at best consultees and witnesses, not decision-makers. Victims’ participation as political actors, and the impact of sociopolitical participation on survivors, is still an under-researched area in TJ. This article provides an analysis of how victims’ participation is given shape in the everyday functioning of Colombia’s Victims’ Law. The Victims’ Law offers an excellent case to examine this issue, since it provides an ongoing and ambitious TJ mechanism with a detailed framework for participation. This allows for a better understanding of this phenomenon in practice, beyond the understanding of victim-centred transitional justice as the mere presence of victims. This article critically engages with victim-centred TJ theories which are based on long-held assumptions of how participation will lead to participation, ownership and citizenship. It moreover explores the impact on victims of that participation throughout the different phases of non-judicial TJ procedures. It asks whether their engagement means that TJ processes indeed respond better to victims’ needs, whether victims feel a greater ownership of these processes as a result, and whether victims even want to participate. It concludes by reflecting on the implications for victim-centred TJ, by explaining that participation should privilege genuinely participatory processes which take survivors and their agency as a starting point. This requires recognizing and building upon victims’ pre-existent internal organizational and decision-making processes and time frames, to create a more horizontal way of relating.
- transitional justice