Ethics & International Affairs Volume 15.1 (Spring 2001): Articles: Peaceful Transition and Retrospective Justice: Some Reservations (Response to Juan Méndez) [Abstract]

May 4, 2001

Although retribution for past human rights violations has its place in post-conflict processes of transition and reconciliation, there are many present and foreseeable circumstances in which the case for immunity, amnesty, or sheer forbearance is significantly stronger than Juan E. Méndez's approach to this question can admit. Disagreement about justice is an ineradicable part of political life and a leading cause of violent conflict. Reconciliation cannot always presuppose or await a shared moral understanding; frequently enough, it requires an agreement to disagree, even about fundamental principles -- at least with respect to their retrospective application. Where the parties to violent conflict have seen fit to set aside issues of retrospective justice in the service of peace and reconciliation, outsiders, who do not bear the costs of conflict and instability, should second-guess that decision only with the greatest reluctance. They should not look to international human rights standards and mechanisms for a universal solution.

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