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Failing Victims? The Limits of Transitional Justice in Addressing the Needs of Victims of Violations

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JournalHuman Rights and International Legal Discourse
DateSubmitted - Jul 2016
DateAccepted/In press - Oct 2016
DatePublished (current) - 2017
Issue number2
Volume2017
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)41-58
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Transitional justice represents itself as both a discourse and practice that exists primarily to support victims of human rights violations and gains its moral legitimacy from the fact that victims are deserving and the claim that transitional justice has the aim of acknowledging victims and providing redress. Here, this claim is interrogated in the light of a practice that actually appears to be rooted in liberal state-building, and for which victims are an essential instrument of prescribed mechanisms of transitional justice, such as trials and truth commissions. Evidence is presented that, despite a common rhetoric claiming that transitional justice is ‘victim-centred’, its principal mechanisms, namely trials and truth commissions, are actually driven by the needs of the state. A dominant legalism has seen mechanisms such as prosecution privileged over those that serve victims, such as reparation. One result of this institutionalisation of transitional justice processes is that victims have little agency in such processes and participate as instruments of those mechanisms, rather than on their own terms. Social and economic rights remain largely ignored by transitional justice mechanisms, despite these being central to both the addressing of victims’ needs and the causes of conflict. It is posited that rather than being driven by victims, transitional justice is an arm of global liberal, and often neoliberal, governance, sometimes sustaining systems that create many of the needs that victims articulate.

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