Workshop Review: ‘Local, Regional and International Perspectives on Political Settlement and Transition’

This post summarises the rich debates and presentations that took place during the ‘Local, Regional and International Perspectives on Political Settlement and Transition’ Summer School, at the Onati Institute for the Sociology of Law, Spain. Only 3 weeks after the UK’s referendum on EU membership, the scheduling of the workshop proved particularly fortuitous to discuss political settlements, transitional justice and constitutionalism.

Author: Kenneth Campbell

On 14th & 15th July a range of practitioners and researchers from a number of disciplines and institutions participated in a workshop on ‘Local, Regional and International Perspectives on Political Settlement and Transition’, hosted at the Onati Institute for the Sociology of Law. Convened by Professor Fionnuala Ni Aoláin and Dr Gina Bekker of Political Settlements Research Programme partner TJI, the workshop explored adapting the tools developed in transitional justice discourses for application to broader political settlement arenas and visa‐versa, how transitional justice mechanisms and ideas can inform legal and political solutions outside of its core domain. The goal was also to bring together a diverse set of practitioners and scholars working in different fields and geographies to ‘road test’ the value and applicability of both transitional justice and political settlement concepts and practice.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 09.16.19

While those dialogues would no doubt have provided useful insights at any time, the scheduling of the workshop only 3 weeks after the UK’s referendum on EU membership proved particularly fortuitous. In the course of the first day’s presentations and lively discussion which followed, the significance of the momentous outcome of that referendum well beyond the direct UK-EU relationship became evident.  Brexit provided a focal point to address implications for the Good Friday/Belfast political agreements as well as to ponder the broader constitutional settlement in the United Kingdome and Ireland.

In sessions chaired by Monica McWilliams (TJI) and Rory O’Connell (TJI), panellists explored a number of aspects of hybrid constitutionalism in well-established transitional communities of Northern Ireland and the Basque Country, and drawing on the complex transition to multi-level constitutionalism in Scotland.  These case-studies provided an entry point to address thorny issues of accountability, identity, and political form in established democracies transitioning from political violence.

Anne Smith (TJI) unpacked aspects of the complex cross-community dialogue (and in some instances, non-dialogue) around the development of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Duncan Morrow (Ulster) explored some of the specific problems the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was directed to facilitate resolution, and problems is BREXIT likely to pose for that architecture. Daniel Holder (CAJ) explained the work of NGOs in Northern Ireland using rule of law and transitional justice tools in addressing issues of immunity relating to events during the Troubles. Doncha O’Connell (NUIG) provided a perspective from south of the Irish border, which he contended was reconstitutionalised by the Belfast Agreement, and challenged by BREXIT; while Kenneth Campbell (Edinburgh) spoke about the position of Scotland, both in the context of emerging multi-level constitutionalism, and the possible effect of BREXIT on the reconstitutionalisation of Britain.

Moving the focus closer to the workshop venue, Basque experts Paul Rios and Gorka Espiau elaborated the Basque peace process and the curious character of progress without a political settlement with the centre, while Amaia Alverez (TJI) provided a comparative analysis of the experience of Northern Ireland and the Basque Country.  The Basque experience has been considerably under-appreciated in the literature and this session gave important detail to the uniqueness and lessons learnt (or not) of the ongoing transition.

In the second day’s sessions chaired by Gina Bekker (TJI) and Fionnuala Ni Aoláin (TJI) the focus shifted with a number of case-studies from around Africa, followed by an exploration of the role of international institutions and NGOs in development and practice of transitional justice and political settlement.

George Mukundi (AU) introduced the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework. Khanyisela Moyo (TJI) explored a number of transitional justices issues in Zimbabwe, with particular emphasis on the impact of colonial policies on contemporary transition. Hakeem Yusuf (Birmingham) explained the Nigerian experience of post-authoritarian transitions and judicial governance, while Lucia Kula (SOAS) presented a gender-centred view of land reform in recent years in Angola. In the session focussing on institutional actors, expert policy consultant Laura Davis explored the operation of the EU external action policy, noting some of the challenges arising from current foreign policy hotspots, while Catherine Woollard focussed on the EU’s transitional justice policy and the resources challenges which it faces and Elisa Ketelaars (TJI) provided a feminist critique. Karol Balfe (Christian Aid) brought practical experience from the work of INGOs in law and policy in transitional justice and political settlement.

Workshop 14_15 July 2016

This workshop facilitated wide-ranging exchange of national and regional perspectives on transitional justice issues, and problems of political and constitutional settlement. Cross-cutting legal, political and economic challenges were explored, and a number of very contemporary areas for further work identified within each of the localities in the case studies presented.


Author Biography:

Kenneth Campbell QC is a PhD Candidate at Edinburgh Law School and a member of Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. His research looks into ‘the role of the Scottish ‘settlement’ in the emergence of constitutional laws and Britain’s ‘unwritten’ constitution’. Such project seeks to examine the judicial articulation of the idea that certain statutes and certain rights have a ‘constitutional’ character, and are therefore to be afforded enhanced respect and protection. It seeks to do so by examining the case law generated by the Scottish devolution arrangements, and extending into related case law in the other British jurisdictions. Kenneth is the holder of a Shaw Macfie Lang Fellowship. Kenneth is also a member of the Bar in Scotland and in England practising (amongst others) in the areas of public law.

Photo Credit: TJI and Onati Institute for the Sociology of Law