A Different Kind of Justice: Dealing with Human Rights Violations in Transitional Societies [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 13 (1999)

December 4, 1999

In "transitional societies" like South Africa and Bosnia, which are currently moving from authoritarianism, and often violent repression, to democracy, questions arise about the appropriate way to deal with serious human rights offenders. Will a system of retributive justice bring about the healing and harmony necessary for peace and stability? Or, is "a different kind of justice" required, one explicitly aimed at reconciliation, and designed to repair and restore relations, and, perhaps, to forgive offenders rather than prosecute them? Are the systems mutually exclusive, or can they be combined in some way?

In an effort to clarify terms and sharpen practical choices, this essay distinguishes between retributive and restorative justice and relates the distinction to constructive proposals concerning the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation. The essay then applies the proposed framework to two recent efforts to cope with the problem: the truth and reconciliation commissions of South Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

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