Justice or no justice?

Egyptians are angry, so very angry that they are dragging their former president through the criminal courts. The trial of Hosni Mubarak on charges of corruption and for conspiring to kill protestors who are popularly known as the martyrs of the Revolution, made headlines on many news stations across the globe.

Mubarak denied all charges meaning that his plea was that of not guilty. The implications of that plea are grave. The prosecution has to establish the link between Mubarak’s actions or failure to take action and the crimes that he is said to have committed. That is not an easy task. There is thus no guarantee that the trial will result in a successful conviction because the outcome is based on the evidence. So no matter how much Egyptians may be convinced that Mubarak was corrupt or that were it not for him snipers would never have shot at protestors, their convictions will come to naught if no convincing evidence is put to the judges to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Criminal justice is also slow and very expensive. The hiring of lawyers and the charges of the court could be costly.

The most worrying element for me is even if Mubarak were to be found guilty the criminal charges against him are specific to particular incidences of corruption and specific incidences of killings. The trial will not likely reveal details of the repression of the regime which must be exposed if Egypt is to move on. The trial will not expose the structures of corruption and so these will remain standing even after Mubarak is convicted. It will not show who was responsible for all the human rights violations that took place in Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. It is with this in mind that I ask myself if the prosecution of Mubarak, his sons and the six associates is the best way for Egyptians to express their anger.

When crimes are committed and justice is never served, the wounds of those against whom the crimes were committed never heal and that is why transitional justice is relevant. Transitional justice is not just an idea. It is the lived experiences of many countries that suffered under repressive regimes and then found ways of moving forward post-conflict. Transitional justice seeks to help societies to find ways of reshaping them, to prevent recurrence of atrocities committed in the past, to reaffirm victims’ dignity and to expose the truth of what exactly happened because victims have a reciprocal right to know.

By victims I mean the actual people who were killed, beaten, tortured, mutilated, abducted, unlawfully detained, disappeared, harassed, subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and had all sorts of terrible things done to them. These are the primary victims. I also refer to secondary victims; the people who were close to those who directly suffered. They witnessed the atrocities committed against their loved ones and some of them live even today with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their husbands, sons and relatives.

I wonder then if a trial that addresses one incident of corruption and the killing of a few protestors during the Revolution is the best answer when so many years of repression remain mystical. Is it not prudent to deal with the issues in a more holistic manner than to focus on a single incident?

Reconciliation is key if Egypt is to move forward. But there cannot be reconciliation without justice. And that justice cannot be achieved through the trial of Mubarak, his two sons and a few associates for an isolated incident. Justice lies in the nation of Egypt coming together to chart a process in which they will formulate a strategy to deal with their past. Such a strategy must not only focus on addressing the violations committed during the revolution but also the trends of violations that prevailed throughout Mubarak’s rule.

Truth-seeking must be a central part of that strategy. The victims need to know how certain crimes were committed, who committed them, what happened to their loved ones. In knowing the truth and exposing the systematic way in which certain crimes were committed; history will correctly record the violations and the victims can begin to deal with their losses and come to terms with their experiences.

Victims must receive reparations. Reparations can be in the form of restitution, compensation or reintegration. Restitution involves restoring the victims to their previous circumstances before the violations were perpetrated against them. Those who lost their jobs or property for merely opposing the regime could be reinstated. Compensation must be given to the victims for the harm they suffered. Such compensation may be in the form of money, goods, symbolic acts significantly recognising the wrongs of the past or some other form such as the building of memorials. Reintegration would be the process of bringing society together, rebuilding trust between individuals who previously were on opposing sides. In the context of Egyptian society it would involve rebuilding relations between the perpetrators and the victims especially the police and the general public, between Copts and Muslims and recent events show the need for mending the relationship between the army and the revolutionaries.