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The guilt of nations: Restitution and negotiating historical injustices

Barkan, Elazar
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

In this book, Elazar Barkan traces what he calls the “new global trend of restitution for historical injustices,â€? a trend based on the novel demand that nations act morally and acknowledge their own past wrongdoing. Questions of morality and justice – as against “realpolitik,â€? the perspective that realism rather than ideology or ethics should drive politics – are receiving growing attention as political questions. In this context, his treatment of restitution is an investigation into the role of morality in relation to both individual and group human rights, national politics, and the politics of international relations. Barkan notes that in legal terms restitution is only one form of possible means to amend past injury or injustice. Reparations and apologies are other forms. Restitution, strictly speaking, refers to the return of specific actual belongings that were taken. Reparation refers to some form of material recompense for that which cannot be returned. Apology refers to an admission of wrongdoing and a recognition of its effects. Nevertheless, inasmuch as all of these indicate a recognition by perpetrators of the need to amend for past wrongdoing, Barkan uses the term restitution comprehensively to include all attempts to recognize and rectify historical injustice. To make his analysis concrete, he examines a number of particular situations that raise issues of justice and the negotiation of a resolution of historical crimes.


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