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Beyond the liberal-institutional paradigm: grassroots human rights and transitional justice narratives in Antígonas, tribunal de mujeres

Elston, C. (2022) Beyond the liberal-institutional paradigm: grassroots human rights and transitional justice narratives in Antígonas, tribunal de mujeres. In: Gardeazabal Bravo, C. and Guerrieri, K. G. (eds.) Human Rights in Colombian Literature and Cultural Production: Embodied Enactments. Routledge. ISBN 9780367722807 (In Press)

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In contemporary Colombia discourses of human rights and transitional justice have become the dominant language to articulate progressive ideas of justice, rights for victims and a resolution to more than fifty years of armed conflict. Yet, as recent historiographies have affirmed, in contrast to the universalist narrative of transcendental rights, both discourses emerged out of a specific historical conjuncture in the context of the end of the Cold War and as the ideas of the radical left, national liberation and decolonisation movements were in decline (Moyn 2010; Zunino 2019). In line with these revisionist accounts numerous scholars of transitional justice and rights discourses have thus critiqued their moderate, liberal and state-centred goals, their abandonment of structural and emancipatory change and their focus on individual rights, which are “deeply informed by the logics of neoliberal governance” (Speed and Sierra 2005: 3). Although these revisionist studies of human rights and transitional justice narratives would suggest a deep scepticism about their progressive possibilities, scholars analysing the emergence of these interrelated discourses in Colombia have argued for a more nuanced and complex understanding of their uses in the context of the armed conflict. In the case of human rights discourses, Winifred Tate has explored how whilst they have been employed for multiple ideological ends, including by the state and the right-wing, their origins in Colombia lie in the radical left in the 1970s (2007); comparatively scholars have analysed the polyvocal nature of transitional justice discourses in Colombia, where they have been articulated both by the Colombian state as “un instrumento meramente retórico” with the aim of “ocultar la impunidad” (Saffon and Uprimny 2007: 171), as well as by grassroots victims’ organisations who have challenged the government’s definition of justice and reconciliation and its failure to provide guarantees of non-repetition (Díaz 2008; Rowen 2017). As Alejandro Castillejo Cuéllar argues, to understand the use of these discourses in Colombia we must shift towards “una perspectiva desde abajo” to analyse how they are “interpretados de maneras particulares por personas y comunidades” (2017: 6). Building upon this work, this article explores the non-official use of human rights and transitional justice narratives by victims of state crimes in the context of the recent peace process. Against normative state-centric, legalistic understandings of rights and transitional justice - and in agreement with an emerging body of scholarship that has explored how grassroots and informal memory processes proliferate in situations of transition (McEvoy and McGregor 2008; Androf 2012; Zunino 2019) - the article analyses a paradigmatic example of a grassroots transitional justice and rights initiative, the play Antígonas Tribunal de mujeres (2014). A collective creation directed by Carlos Satizábal, the play weaves together the classical story of Antigone with the narratives of four groups of women victimised by the conflict. The article explores how the play links multiple instances of violence to challenge official human rights narratives of the conflict that minimise crimes committed by the Colombian state and analyse how it seeks to construct a collective rights narrative that also goes beyond the limited vision of civil and political rights to include economic and cultural rights. Situating this in a longer (micro)history of left-wing human rights discourses in Colombia, demonstrating a more nuanced understanding of the use of rights rhetoric in Colombia, the article also analyses how the play represents a popular tradition of transitional justice rooted in arts-based and creative methodologies that challenges the liberal, state-centered paradigm of human rights discourses. Faced with the delegitimization of their narrative of state victimisation by normative legal and political structures, I show how creative and artistic methodologies are currently extensively used by activists in Colombia not simply to provide symbolic recognition and reparation to victims but to articulate alternative truth claims and forms of justice and collective memory that are left out of liberal-institutional human rights narratives.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Modern Languages and European Studies > Spanish and Hispanic Studies
ID Code:98534

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