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Restorative Justice in Social Context: The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Villa-Vicencio, Charles
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) In Nigel Biggar, ed., Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict. Expanded and updated. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. Pp. 235-250.

Charles Villa-Vicencio begins this chapter with the observation that political decision-making about social transitions occurs not in the abstract but in the context of historical realities. Compromise is necessarily part of this, but it can be the beginning of a process that eventually yields better results than initially considered possible. Villa-Vicencio believes the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC) should be evaluated in this framework. In this regard, he maintains that the TRC has achieved a somewhat fragile foundation for reconciliation and peace-building as South Africa continues to move from apartheid to democracy. It is a foundation requiring reinforcement from other nation-building initiatives. The mandate for the TRC included as a primary goal the pursuit of “peaceful coexistenceâ€? among conflicting groups in South Africa, a coexistence acknowledging the need to understand the motives and perspectives of all parties to the conflict as a beginning to eventual national reconciliation. With this in mind, Villa-Vicencio examines the work of the TRC and concludes that the TRC produced a form of restorative justice grounded in both the struggle against apartheid and in the need for nation-building.


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