First Meeting of the Arab Working Group on Transitional Justice

Manama, Bahrain, 28 March 2009

The Arab Working Group on Transitional Justice (AWGTJ) held its first meeting in Manama – Bahrain on 28 March 2009. The meeting gathered around 20 Arab experts who took part in the one working day event, organized by NPSG/NPWJ and project partner KADEM in partnership with the Arab Democracy Foundation, the Arab Institute for Human Rights, Bahrain Human Rights Society and the National Centre for Studies (Bahrain).
Participants included lawyers, legal advisors, academicians, human rights and democracy defenders and activists coming from more than 10 Arab countries.
The aim of the meeting was to provide an overview of transitional justice actions in the Mediterranean and Middle East region as well as to build a strengthened regional network and enhance the capacity of civil society regionally to cooperate on international criminal justice.
The one-day meeting was divided into a plenary session in the morning where the members discussed the strategic planning for the Group. During the afternoon session, participants were divided into two working groups, one addressing the “objectives, strategies and the work plan” and the other the “Group structure”.
One of the major issues that was addressed by the Group members is how to institutionalise the AWGTJ. The members emphasised on connecting with other institutions such as some of the UN bodies, which would contribute to the efforts of widening the Group networking, field of operability and visibility. This issue led the discussions to the identity of the Group, which helped clarify its goals and missions and thus will help in working comfortably with governments. In this regard, members were unanimous on the need to break the political lock in order to start the transitional justice process, a major challenge in most countries of the region. Working closely with the governments was considered crucial both in countries where a process has been targeted and in others still trying to build a national momentum.
At the same time, the members tackled the sensitive issue of how best to take the local specificities of each country into consideration (in songs, theatre, the religious mosaic etc.). Some of the members even suggested working on a coalition with the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience (built in 1999) when working on the collective memory issue in the concerned Arab countries. They were also unanimous on the necessity to have the current Group Strategy as an umbrella to national strategies when focusing on the specificities of each Arab transitional justice experience.