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Ferencz International Justice Initiative: Our Approach

The Ferencz International Justice Initiative is working towards a more peaceful and just world in which societies affected by genocide and crimes against humanity address their legacies of extreme violence and hatred through processes that place victims and survivors at the center. We bring together coalitions of change-agents, both from affected communities and from the halls of power, to incubate new strategies to advance justice; and through education, research, and outreach we inspire, empower, and equip them to press for justice over the long term. 

“To avoid revenge and retaliation, victims of oppression must know that their oppressors have been brought to justice; and efforts must be made to heal the wounds of those who have suffered. ”
— Benjamin Ferencz, Chief prosecutor of the Einsatzgruppen trial

Informed by research that shows that ignoring past atrocities increases the risk of future atrocities, our work continues the lifelong efforts of Nuremberg prosecutor, Benjamin Ferencz, and is an integral part of the Simon-Skjodt Center’s mission to prevent, halt, and redress genocide and related crimes against humanity.

Supporting the Most Compelling Justice Champions

We believe that victims and survivors have the greatest incentive to pursue justice and history has shown that if empowered and supported, they can be the most compelling champions for justice. Victims and survivors of Hissène Habré in Chad, of Rios Montt in Guatemala, and of Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti among others have been instrumental in advancing justice for their communities. These courageous victims—together with the change-agents who support them—are putting despots, dictators, and perpetrators on notice that their crimes will not go unpunished. Learn more about victim-driven efforts to advance justice.

‘Victim’ and ‘Survivor’

We use the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ to refer to people who have been harmed, injured, or killed in the context of mass atrocities. Different people may prefer one term over the other, finding it to be more empowering, appropriate, and reflective of their experiences. People's preferences may also change depending on the context in which the term is used. For example, the term 'victim' has a specific legal meaning in international criminal law and human rights law and may therefore be preferred in formal contexts. We affirm the prerogative of victims and survivors to adopt the term they find most appropriate.

We strive to adopt a victim-centered approach in all of our work. Our work aims to equip victims, affected communities, and civil society with the tools, access, and connections that they need to press for justice and redress. To do that, we research and reflect on ways to ensure that justice processes respond to their needs; we connect them to policy-makers who have the power to establish fair and independent justice processes; and we provide them with a platform to make their voices heard. 

Striving for Sustainable, Long-Term Change

Research shows that sustainable, long-term change from conflict and atrocities towards more peaceful and just societies requires a two-pronged approach. Not only is it necessary to garner support from key decision-makers at the domestic, regional, and international levels, it is also critical to build the buy-in and demand for justice at the local level from affected communities. Developing and sustaining this desire for change requires coalitions of diverse change-makers engaged in a range of strategies in pursuit of a common goal of peace and justice. It requires strategic thinkers to develop creative solutions to intractable problems and skilled practitioners to implement them. It requires legal specialists with expertise in gathering evidence and developing cases. It requires strategic communicators who can convey the urgency of the need to end impunity to different audiences. It requires security experts, sustainable funding and resources, and the perseverance and determination of everyone involved. All of our programs, from our Justice Advisory Groups to our training, education, research, and outreach, seek to inspire and equip diverse change-makers to take strategic action to build the political will for justice.

Pursuing Holistic and Comprehensive Justice and Redress

Meaningful and effective justice for genocide and crimes against humanity must be holistic and comprehensive. Our efforts to promote transitional justice focus not only on holding perpetrators criminally responsible for their actions but also on remembering the past, creating space for truth-telling, and building the foundations for a more stable future. Research shows these justice processes can be mutually reinforcing and have a greater impact when developed, phased, and tailored to each unique context. Learn more about transitional justice.

Learning From and Building on Our Work

We approach our work to confront impunity for genocide and crimes against humanity with humility. This means that we continuously strive to learn from our own work and from other contexts, researchers, and organizations. Our work with victims and civil society to incubate effective justice strategies informs our research agenda, educational activities, and outreach, while our research, education, and outreach work informs our engagement with victims and civil society. Similarly, we seek to identify and share lessons learned from efforts to advance transitional justice across contexts, so that civil society actors can learn from their counterparts in other countries. This cross-contextual exchange helps to illuminate the factors that make justice processes successful or unsuccessful and how these processes can be tailored and refined for other unique contexts. 

Where We Work

We are an initiative of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide and are based in Washington, DC. The Museum sits at the intersection of policy and government, memorialization and culture, and education, research, and history, offering a unique platform to bring together and inspire different sectors and communities around a shared vision of a more peaceful, humane, and just world. 

We are currently working to advance justice and accountability with groups in three countries in Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. As part of this work, we are establishing Justice Advisory Groups in these countries that bring together local and international justice actors and change-agents to develop long-term, holistic, multi-faceted, victim-driven justice strategies.