chapter  2
28 Pages

Transitional justice

Practices and discourses of transitional justice have a long tradition, as they can be traced back to the Athenians in the early developments of deliberative democracy (Elster). The term “transitional justice” is understood here “to refer to societal responses to severe repression, societal violence, and systematic human rights violations that seek to establish the truth about the past, determine accountability, and offer some form of redress, at least of a symbolic nature” (Van der Merwe, Baxter and Chapman 2). Truth-telling and truth-finding have become the most salient and constant features of the drive to seek justice (through truth) in the aftermath of political violence, due to the “universal” belief (advanced by human rights advocates as well as mainstream international institutions such as the UN) that “a durable peace requires countries to address past violence” (Leebaw 30). This is a puzzling shift, according to Leebaw, who points out that historically speaking, transitional justice institutions (courts primarily) were believed to be an obstacle to national reconciliation, political stability and reforms. But she is quick to explain that the “spread of institutional justice institutions that investigate past abuses has also been identified as symptomatic of a declining faith in possibilities for collective struggles for political change, and as evidence of a counterrevolutionary agenda” (97).1