The CCEIL invited alumni Noha Aboueldahab back to SOAS to start off this semester’s “Critical Conversation Series”. In conversation with Dr Gina Heathcote, Noha shared with current students her experience and expertise on transitional justice and human rights in the Arab region, alongside with her work at various NGOs, UN agencies, academic institutions, and think tanks over the course of 15 years.
Noha’s work focuses on transitional justice, human rights, and international law. She published in 2017 her first book, which furthers on her PhD research. Entitled ‘Transitional Justice and the Prosecution of Leaders in the Arab Region: A Comparative Study of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen’ this research challenges the traditional perceptions of transitional justice from a non-liberal to a liberal-democratic regime. By using field interviews across four countries in the Arab region, Noha demonstrates the lack of theoretical development within transitional justice scholarship and highlights the importance of nuancing the field so as to explore transitions such as the ones seen during the Arab Spring.
Another of her many roles was to be Guest Editor for the 2019 Criminal Law Review Special Issue on the relationship between Law and Ethnographic approaches. She stressed the importance of combining both fields when doing research as it is the most effective way of collecting information about the impact of law and legal mechanisms on populations. As Dr Gina Heathcote mentioned, one SOAS PhD student, Michelle Lokot, got published within this special issue.
Following from a brief description of her work, Noha then gave an insight into her career path with recommendations for the attending MA/LLM students. She combined academic and field work throughout by working at the Coalition of the ICC before doing an MA in International Law at SOAS in 2005/06. She then went back to field work at the Coalition of the ICC, and later UNDP. Subsequently, Noha returned to academia for her PhD at Durham Law School, where she began her research on Prosecuting Political Leaders in the Arab Region, in the wake of the Arab Spring. The timing of her research with the ongoing political events made her thesis even more relevant, but she admitted that initially it was a bit more overwhelming than she planned due to the unpredictable geographic expansion of the Arab Spring.
Lastly, she talked about her current position as a Fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Doha Center, and the importance, for her, of going back to work in the Middle East and being able to work from within instead of engaging from the outside. Being in Doha has allowed her to create a platform for meaningful conversations with actors in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia – something which may not have been possible in another country due to immigration and visa procedures.
The floor then opened up to questions. A number of them addressed the issue of time in pre and post-conflict environments. In fact, according to Noha, transitional justice is a useful mechanism to approach the issue of time in conflict. The Truth and Dignity Commission in Tunisia is an example of successful use of time. The Commission had a mandate going back to 1956, which allowed it to explore post-colonial impact and asked France and the IMF for reparations and apologies. Contrastingly, prosecution in inherently limited in time and can prove to be unsatisfactory to address the longer term effects of conflicts.
Other questions centred around our understanding of transnational justice as going from dictator state to a liberal democracy. Noha argued that her finding shows transnational justice can take place in other subtler forms and spaces and still have a great impact. During the session, Noha also shared a new project she is currently working on, where she is meeting and listening to voices from the Yemeni diaspora, hoping to finally bring them together and make room for their response to the war in Yemen.
By Louise Pech, LLM Human Rights Conflict and Justice; and Eleonor Lefvert, MA Gender Studies and Law.