International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Rethinking the meaning of justice?

Much of the discussions we’ve been having in class and through the blog have referred to a perceive tension between peace and justice in which one is given up for the sake of the other. However, at the History, Fictions, and Politics of Justice lecture last Friday, Professor Mahmood Mamdani proposed a different way of thinking about this divide. He believes that the goal held by many international justice bodies today to punish all violence without exception prevents us from moving conflict-torn societies forward. Instead of aiming for criminalization of actions, we should aim for increased political participation. According to him, to do otherwise would continue the cycles of violence and animosity that we have discussed before. This particular view is very challenging to accept because it asks us to look at society as the victim rather than only the targeted individuals  in order to achieve a “survivor’s justice”. For this reason he finds that the system implemented in South Africa through CODESA represents a “true negotiated result of the conflict” as opposed to the Nuremberg trials (which he sees as performances of political power).

I appreciate how this idea makes us rethink what we perceive to be justice, but I wonder to what extent it might be carried out- in other words, was he calling for an end to the persecution of crimes committed within the context of conflict? While this is an interesting proposition, how would people who have been hurt and that have suffered perceive this different route. Would they perhaps feel cheated or betrayed when they see their previous oppressors as their neighbors or as their leaders? Perhaps it is exactly this mentality that Mamdani wants us to leave behind and redefine how we understand justice at the most basic level.

Amnesty or Impunity? A Preliminary Critique of the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa


One response to “Rethinking the meaning of justice?

  1. Alana Tiemessen October 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I also enjoyed Mamdani’s talk. I think his connection between political violence and political reconciliation is also interesting. His concepts of “survivors'” vs “victims'” vs “victor’s” justice were addressed in his book on Rwanda – but i’m not sure widely these categories can apply outside of the Rwanda and South Africa cases.

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