By Elizabeth Foy Larsen
When the government of Colombia needed advice about how best to restore justice to 8 million people who suffered human rights abuses during the country’s 50-year civil war, one of the experts they turned to was Bridget Marchesi. A political science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, Marchesi helped create the world’s largest publicly available database that helps countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address human rights violations. These are the types of violations that are so widespread and serious that the normal judicial system isn’t able to adequately handle the process.
Called the Transitional Justice Research Collaborative, the database is used by scholars, advocates, and policy makers to determine what other societies have done to address past abuses. The data can help them determine which transitional justice processes—including prosecutions, truth commissions, and reparations— are most effective in satisfying the rights of victims. Argentina, for example, offered pensions to relatives of citizens who had disappeared during that country’s brutal dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, Serbia offered amnesty to some 12,500 conscripts who deserted the army instead of fighting in Croatia and Bosnia. And top Kenyan political figures were charged with crimes against humanity in an international court for abuses that happened during postelection violence in 2007 and 2008.
“The purpose of this project is to gather the best data that we possibly can so that we can make the most accurate and insightful empirical comparisons about the different ways societies hold governments accountable,” says Marchesi, who also holds a Master of Public Policy from the Humphrey School and an M.B.A. from the Carlson School. Thanks to her work, that’s exactly what’s happening.
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