Elena is an anthropologist completing her PhD at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies of the University of Oxford ( She has held visiting positions at the Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Antioquia in Medellín. Her ethnographic research, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, investigates why and how adolescents get involved in organised violence and crime in Colombia's urban and peri-urban margins. In her thesis, she contrasts the lived experiences of these youths with the narrative about peace and reconciliation that permeates the country. Between 2015 and 2018, she conducted 18 months of fieldwork in Colombia, using standard ethnographic methods as well as participatory techniques for research with children and youth. A product of her fieldwork is the participatory documentary ‘Somos’ (trailer available), where a group of youths talk about how peace and violence play out in their daily lives.

In Colombia, Elena has also collaborated with the International Center for Transitional Justice and UNICEF. She was also a visiting lecturer on transitional justice, peacebuilding and children's rights at the Law Faculties of the National University and the Rosario University in Bogotá, and at University College London and the Metropolitan University in London. At Oxford, Elena is co-founder of the Oxford Children’s Rights Network, and a member of the Oxford Transitional Justice Research group, the Oxford Network of Peace Studies, the War and Peace at Oxford group, and the Enacting Global Transformation Initiative.

Prior to coming to Oxford, Elena graduated as Class Valedictorian from University College Utrecht, where she completed her BA (Hons) summa cum laude in Law and Anthropology, with a minor in Research Methods and Statistics. She was also a visiting student at SciencesPo Paris, specialising in international law and conflict studies. During her undergraduate studies, Elena worked as a research intern at the Utrecht University School of Human Rights Research and at the Barcelona University Peace Studies Centre. She has also volunteered in several countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe in the areas of sustainable development, peacebuilding and child education.


Personal website

LinkedIn profile

Safety in fieldwork video 

Ethnographic documentary trailer


Supervisor: Prof. Fernanda Pirie


Displaying 1 - 6 of 6. Sorted by year, then title.
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  • EB Butti, 'Involving Non-Organised ‘Outcast’ Youths in Peacebuilding: Existing Challenges and Lessons Learned in the Colombian Case' (2018) A contribution to the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security mandated by Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015)
    This paper addresses the question of how to better involve non-organised outcast youths in peacebuilding through an in-depth exploration of the Colombian case, where the author has conducted 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork with adolescents and youths at the urban and semi-rural margins. This paper argues that what lies at the root of youth violence is a feeling of being stigmatised and marginalised by others within their own – already socioeconomically disadvantaged – communities, and as compared to their peace activist peers. The ‘outcast’ youths at the centre of this study find themselves at the intersection of different types of marginalisation. This position generates in them a frustration to which the turn to violence is an automatic response. Their daily experiences of physical and symbolic violence at home and school starkly contrast with the peace rhetoric currently permeating Colombia, which generates in them a sense of alienation and disenchantment with the peacebuilding project.
  • EB Butti, 'The Invisible Violence behind the Legal Façade: Challenges of and Strategies for Conducting Research in High-Risk Settings in Transitional Colombia' (2016) Journal of the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies
    Based on my first months of ethnographic fieldwork in Colombia, this 'Notes from the Field' piece describes the profound divide between the perfectly-crafted legal framework and the daily realities of people living at the margins, as the country undertakes a process of transition to peace. Through ethnographic anecdotes, it illustrates the paradoxes of a legal discourse that often remains pure rhetoric, and it contrasts it with accounts of the informal, but more effectively enforced, norms deriving from armed actors' territorial control. Finally, it reflects on strategies for conducting fieldwork in high-risk settings, which may be useful to other researchers undertaking similar fieldwork.
  • EB Butti, 'Children’s Rites: Examining the Role of Local Justice in the Ugandan Transitional Justice Process through a Child Rights Approach' (2016) The Undergraduate Journal: A collection of winning entries from 2014
    Building upon the recent increased attention to local justice mechanisms, and responding to calls for child-sensitive approaches to transitional justice, this study asks the following question: 'How, if at all, can the Nyono Tong Gweno (‘stepping on the egg’) ritual play a role in facilitating a child-sensitive approach to transitional justice in Northern Uganda?' Relying on semi-structured interviews with Ugandan NGO workers, primary legal sources and secondary literature, this study performs a detailed analysis of the potential of this ritual to implement children rights. Four core groups of children rights are identified: the rights related to social reintegration, restoration of culture, psychological recovery and freedom of expression in the justice process. This study concludes that, while not devoid of problems and shortcomings, Nyono Tong Gweno can play a fundamental role in enhancing children rights in transitional justice in Northern Uganda. However, the mechanism needs to be revised in order to fully meet its potential. Room for revision involves providing employment and educational opportunities to children returnees to fully ensure their social reintegration; ensuring that children’s participation in such rituals is voluntary and well-informed; encouraging professional psychologists to work side-by-side with elders during consultations to ensure children’s full psychological recovery; and giving children the possibility to engage in a dialogue with elders concerning the specifics of the justice process. Moving away from the elitist and politicised arguments that had characterised advocacy for the Mato Oput (‘drinking the bitter root’) ritual, this study suggests a holistic approach that combines local and international justice for the mutual benefit of both.
  • T. Zwart, N. Al Haider, EB Butti and others, 'Safeguarding the Universal Acceptance of Human Rights through the Receptor Approach' (2016) 36 Human Rights Quarterly 898
    The receptor approach relies on ethnographic research to identify social institutions and cultural values that match international human rights obligations. Where these institutions and values fall short, home-grown remedies are used to amplify them. The receptor approach provides a practical tool to activists and states. In addition, it welcomes culture as a potential source of human rights rather than dismissing it as an impediment to their protection. Yvonne Donders and Vincent Vleugel’s position that it is “old wine in new bags” is therefore unfounded. The same is true for their argument that it pits “the West against the rest.” Research shows that regional values are still notably different. States are entitled to take these cultural differences into account when implementing their human rights obligations. Denying them their right to do so will force Southern states to disengage.
  • EB Butti, 'Children’s Visibility in Colombia’s Peace Plebiscite Campaign: In Everyone’s Interest but Children’s' (2016) Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog
    On 2nd October 2016, Colombians were called to vote in a historic plebiscite to express their (lack of) support to the final peace agreement signed by the colombian government and the biggest guerrilla group FARC-EP. In the months prior to the plebiscite, the country was pervaded by a very polarised campaign, while the younger generations were pervaded by the most widespread indifference. In various instances during the campaigns, supporters of “yes” or “no” have ‘used’ children’s faces or causes to support their side. In my post, I critically reflect on these happenings through the frame of children’s rights to participation. the central argument is that children in colombia are in need of structural reform in education and family policies, rather than being instrumentalised for political campaigns.
  • EB Butti, 'The Unreal(istic) Rhetoric of Children’s Rights in Colombia’s Reparations Law' (2016) Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog
    As Colombia is undergoing a transition from violence to peace, the government is designing and implementing a series of transitional justice measures including special justice, truth-telling, and reparations. These have been, however, largely adult-cantered and have tended not to take into account the younger generations in meaningful ways. Based on my work at the Colombian Office of the International Center for Transitional Justice, this post outlines the main challenges in the implementation of policies for child-victims under the National Reparations Law.

Research programmes

Research Interests

  • Youth violence
  • Marginalisation and exclusion
  • Peacebuilding
  • Children's rights
  • Ethnographic methods in high-risk settings
  • Participatory research with children and youth


Research projects