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“Transitional and Restorative Justice: Experiments in Democratic Political Education”

Esquith, Stephen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, Aug 28, 2002.

n the last two decades of the twentieth-century a new discourse of transitional and restorative justice has emerged in countries with recent histories of brutal oppression and authoritarian tyranny. This discourse, initially developed to make sense of and guide democratic movements in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, has begun to pressure more consolidated democracies to confront their own complicity in political violence. Most notably, it has bolstered the claims for restitution and compensation brought by North American and Australian aboriginal peoples against their national governments as well as claims for reparations for slavery and apartheid brought against European and U.S. banks and corporations that benefitted from these practices.
I propose to read this new discourse – punctuated by but not limited to truth commissions and war crimes tribunals – as a set of experiments in democratic political education that combine Amartya Sen’s belief that democratic citizens become “fit through democracy” with Carolyn Forché’s view that fitness requires taking daily responsibility for the acts that shape our sensibilities and voices. As spectacles and morality plays, truth commissions and war crimes tribunals are easily parodied and exploited. As political experiments that can be adapted and re-enacted, however, they may prove to be powerful forces for this kind of democratic education in more consolidated as well as transitional democratic societies. (author’s abstract)


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