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From Victim to Victimhood: Truth Commissions and Trials as Rituals of Political Transition and Individual Healing

Humphrey, Michael
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) Australian Journal of Anthropology. 14(2): 171-187.

The victim has been put at the centre of states’ post-atrocity strategies to reform governance, rehabilitate state authority and promote reconciliation. This paper explores the role of the victim in the truth commissions and trials aimed at reconciliation and justice and their experiences of the outcomes. The successor state’s focus on recovering victims after mass atrocity ritually inverts the former regime’s project of producing them. In both truth commissions and trials, the state seeks to manipulate the ‘spectacle’ of the victim’s pain and suffering to publicly project the power of the state for different ends. Whereas the repressive state seeks to deepen the effects of violence as a strategy of rule, the successor state seeks to reverse the social and political effects of violence. These strategies of transitional justice have sought to reverse the effects of exclusion, to reverse the direction of state power from producing victims towards redeeming victims, from injuring to healing. (author’s abstract).


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