Hugo Rojas is Lecturer of Sociology of Law and Human Rights in Chile. He received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Oxford, and his master’s in law, anthropology, and society from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In the below interview, he reflects on his work on human rights and transitional justice, the meaning of justice, and the importance of interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts to bring academics and policy-makers together on issues of justice.
I research and teach human rights and transitional justice in Chile. I am also part of a research center on democracy and violence. This past year I have published two books with Palgrave Macmillan: Human Rights and Transitional Justice in Chile (with Miriam Shaftoe), and Past Human Rights Violations and the Question of Indifference: The Case of Chile.
One of the goals that all societies should pursue is justice. This means that each politically organized community must establish the appropriate mechanisms to resolve legal conflicts in consideration of the legal rules it has sovereignly approved. Solutions and decisions will be just only if those substantive rules and previously established procedures are equally just.
Social movements often fight against those legal norms or social structures that they consider unjust. Social movements critically question society and declare their disagreement with the way in which certain issues or topics are being addressed, particularly by the dominant sectors. Social movements usually arise to confront injustices and inequities affecting a group of people who are dissatisfied with the way they are treated by the rest of the population. Behind every social movement there are theoretical frameworks, action plans, discourses, and narratives in favour of social change. Usually, these discourses are inscribed within what we call social justice, precisely because the movements seek to put an end to what they consider to be social injustice. In the book Human Rights and Transitional Justice in Chile we also mention cases of social injustice, such as the lack of recognition of victims, survivors, and their families in the context of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and during the political transition to democracy (1990 to the present). The human rights movement played a fundamental role in the recovery of democracy in Chile, and in placing transitional justice issues on the public agenda. At present, the feminist and indigenous movements are playing a key role in the work of the Constitutional Convention in charge of drafting a new Constitution for post-transitional Chile.
In the long term, my research seeks to strengthen the rule of law, the quality of democracy and the recognition of human rights. In the short term, I intend to move towards comparative research on transitional justice and pay more attention to the politics of human rights.
I believe that the most productive way to build bridges between researchers and policy makers is to work together on the multiple issues that are of interest to the entire group involved. This could be done by jointly producing annual reports, or by organizing events and seminars where no one feels excluded from the conversation, or by writing clear documents that are useful for the design, implementation, and evaluation of public policies. There are institutions in the world that have such a powerful magnetism that they can become nerve centres of legal-political discussion. For example, the Foundation for Law, Justice, and Society in Oxford.
In my research I have presented proposals to improve the conditions of indigenous peoples in Chile. I have also tried to make known the opinions and perceptions of the victims of the military dictatorship in Chile. Additionally, my research has contributed to a better understanding of people indifferent to human rights, explaining their causes and social consequences.
High-impact research is increasingly interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and useful to a wide range of societies around the world. It is important that researchers try to transmit their knowledge to the new generations, especially during their university years. This kind of researcher also requires people who work in public organizations. The resonance of academic research increases considerably if it is translated into a friendly language through the media or social networks.
In the field of human rights, public participation is extremely important. Investigating human rights without considering the serious problems that may arise for the population -or some social groups- does not make sense. On the contrary, what is expected of the social sciences is that they propose useful information and data for decision-making processes in the public domain.
I would love for all societies to be able to promote a culture of human rights that is much more robust and intense than what we see today. Reaching high and sophisticated levels of human rights culture should contribute to strengthening democracy and the rule of law. Evidently, achieving a goal of this type requires a cooperative effort involving various sectors of the population, including academia.
Hugo Rojas is Lecturer of Sociology of Law and Human Rights at Alberto Hurtado University, Adjunct Professor of Transitional Justice at the Catholic University of Chile, and researcher of the Millennium Institute on Violence and Democracy (VioDemos), Chile. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford and his masters from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Previously he served as presidential advisor during the first government of Michelle Bachelet, validation manager at the Council for Transparency, and head of enforcement at the Chilean Television Commission.