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Trauma and Vengeance: Assessing the Psychological and Emotional Effects of Post-Conflict Justice.

Mendeloff, David
June 4, 2015

Source: (2009) Human Rights Quarterly. 31(2009): 592–623.

Do war crimes tribunals or truth commissions satisfy victims of war and
atrocity and provide psychological relief from war-induced trauma? Do they
make victims less vengeful and less likely to engage in or support violent
retribution? Or does the experience of post-conflict justice simply reinforce
and exacerbate emotional and psychological suffering? Answers to these
questions are central to the logic of truth-telling’s peace-promoting effects in
post-authoritarian and post-war societies. Indeed, one of transitional justice’s
core arguments is that victims of wartime abuse demand truth and justice.
These arguments, however, assume that truth-telling processes, on average,
provide psychological and emotional benefits to victims. Some critics have
argued, however, that they actually cause more harm than good. Although
victims’ preferences for truth and justice are well documented, we know
considerably less about their actual impact. This article assesses that impact
by surveying the extant empirical evidence from prominent cases of transitional
justice, as well as research in forensic and clinical psychology. It
finds a paltry empirical record that offers little support for claims of either
salutary or harmful effects of post-conflict justice. Although there is little evidence that truth-telling in general dramatically harms individuals, the
notion that formal truth-telling processes satisfy victims’ need for justice,
ease their emotional and psychological suffering, and dampen their desire
for vengeance, remains highly dubious. (author’s abstract)


AbstractPost-Conflict ReconciliationRJ in Schools
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