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Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation: Judging the Fairness of Amnesty in South Africa

Gibson, James L.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) American Journal of Political Science. 46(3): 540-556.

Nations in transition to democratic governance often must address the political atrocities committed under the ancien regime. A common response is some sort of ‘truth commission’, typically with the power to grant amnesty to those confessing their illicit deeds. Based on a survey of the South African mass public, my purpose here is to investigate judgments of fairness of amnesty. My analysis indicates that justice considerations do indeed influence fairness fairness assessments. Distributive justice matters- providing victims compensation increases perceptions that amnesty is fair. But so too do procedural (voice) and restorative (apologies) justice matter for amnesty judgements. I conclude that the failure of the new regime in in South Africa to satisfy expectations of justice may have serious consequences for the likelihood of succesfully consilidating the democratic transition. (author’s abstractr).


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