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Toward a Response to Criticisms of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Verwoerd, Wilhelm
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) In Carol A.L. Prager and Trudy Govier, Dilemmas of Reconciliation: Cases and Concepts. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Pp. 245-278.

In this paper I begin by describing the main criticisms encountered by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These criticisms highlight the difficulties and tensions surrounding a prominent part of the process of reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. Given a tendency by many outsiders to be too positive about the TRC, these criticisms are sobering reminders of the dilemmas of reconciliation. My response consists, first, of a general remark on the unavoidable messiness of any attempt to deal with large-scale human rights violations. Second, I reflect on a problem underlying most criticisms of the TRC, namely the lack of clarity about the ‘genre’ of this particular process. Third, I focus on a prominent justice-based criticism in which concern is expressed about the TRC’s sacrifice of retributive justice. I challenge this criticism from the perspective of restorative justice. Hopefully, I will thus help to make the critics think twice before they throw out the fragile TRC baby with the dirty bathwater of a politicized, imperfect process. (excerpt)


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