International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Against Reconciliation

In an intriguing article regarding reconciliation and its place in our system of international justice, “Reconciliation as a Concept of Justice”, Daniel Philpott effectively argues for the acceptance of reconciliation and restorative justice as key, if not the primary, ethical components of the theoretical foundations of international law.

In his sweeping and generalized discussions of reconciliation’s critics, he briefly discusses the stance that reconciliation sacrifices justice. I would argue that this is, in fact, the case. That is therefore to say that reconciliation, as a concept that is prone to multiple definitions by different individuals, cannot be accepted as the foundation or even the goal of the broad and human-wide social contract that is international law. Reconciliation beyond the individual level is impossible to achieve, and attempts to let it serve as the cornerstone of judicial punishment would erode at the staunch infrastructure that leading diplomats have constructed over the past seven decades, which holds all of humanity to a unitary, cohesive ethical standard.

The ideas of local agency (eloquently discussed by Diane Orentlicher in “Settling Accounts Revisited”) and reconciliation, if extended to their logical conclusions, would be a threat to current and effective international norms. Reconciliation and the idea of local agency are hazy concepts – and nebulous ideas can be exceedingly dangerous.


2 responses to “Against Reconciliation

  1. bconroy2015 February 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    The idea that reconciliation sacrifices justice is certainly an important discussion to have in any TJ scenario, and I agree with the original post in that reconciliation is a “hazy concept”. As we discussed in class, there is no universal standard for reconciliation and oftentimes its achievement simply isn’t attainable. However, the interplay between minimalist and maximalist reconciliation is important to take into consideration as well. A current news piece that is exemplar of this idea is the granting of parole by South Africa to Eugene de Kock, a convicted death squad leader during the apartheid. He was reportedly given parole “in the interest of nation building”, which seems ironic because it will reopen many wounds and anger many people that were victimized by apartheid-era abuses. More importantly this event serves to illuminate the lingering effects of the reconciliation/justice battle that took place in the form of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 90’s.

  2. Alana Tiemessen February 2, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    South Africa is a great example of how reconciliation can be contested. In the context of the de Kock case, there is of course mixed reactions. While some see it as necessary to move on from the past, and accept his parole in the interest of reconciliation, other see it as an affront to justice and therefore making it harder to reconcile.

    This situation also raises the question is who is to be reconciled in South Africa. The state with society? de Kock with the family members of his victims? And as Daniel discusses, the former may be an unreasonable expectation.

    If anyone can dig up any more information on references to “reconciliation” in South Africa in the present context and response to this case, please post!

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