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Restorative Justice for Political Transitions: Lessons from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Leebaw, Bronwyn
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) Contemporary Justice Review 4(3-4): 267-289

How should successor regimes confront a legacy of violence and abuses committed by a prior regime? Dominant voices in the human rights movement advocate prosecution and punishment, equating these procedures with justice. South African leaders challenged this view by associating the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with restorative justice. This paper assesses the operations of the TRC as viewed through a restorative lens. South African conceptual innovations are uniquely suited to address the tensions associated with transitional justice. At the same time, the TRC demonstrates that the problems of divided communities and the pressures of nation-building can exacerbate imbalances between victim and perpetrator and lead the inquiry away from major problems resulting from the legacy of the past. These problems might be minimized through planned communication networks and better strategies for victim support.


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