Transitional Justice in Southern Africa: A Comparative Perspective

Transitional Justice in Southern Africa: A Comparative Perspective

Professor Susan Farbstein
Spring 2012 reading group
T 5:00pm - 7:00pm in Hauser Hall Room 103
1 classroom credit

The field of transitional justice took hold in the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to political upheaval, first in Latin American and then in Eastern Europe. Countries emerging from pervasive abuses by former regimes sought to balance demands for justice with the need for political stability and transformation. Transitional justice approaches are now deployed around the world in response to systematic or widespread violations of human rights. These approaches seek to support survivors and to promote justice, accountability, peace, reconciliation, and democracy through various means such as truth commissions, tribunals, and reparations schemes.

This reading group will examine transitional justice in the context of one particular region "Southern Africa" by comparing four countries that experienced significant human rights violations in the recent past: Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa. While each has adopted a particularized approach to redressing abuse, the work of coming to terms with history remains unfinished in all four. This reading group will consider the development and selection of transitional justice mechanisms in each country as well as the current challenges that they confront as a result of the lingering past.

Through a comparative and historical assessment of the transitional justice processes pursued (and rejected) in each country, this reading group will explore broader questions such as:

* What is meant by transitional justice in various settings?

* When and why does a country decide to start telling the truth?

* When and why do survivors demand justice, and what does justice mean?

* How does a country re-visit its past, and how does its chosen approach impact the present?

* How does the decision to prosecute (or not) affect efforts to create autonomous and legitimate legal systems in countries where there may not be a tradition of such institutions? * Must there always be a trade-off between truth, justice, and peace?

* Do more devastating conflicts lead to a desire to forget, or rather a more fervent desire for truth and accountability?

* What does it mean for a transitional justice mechanism to be effective or successful? If such approaches are pursued but deemed to be illegitimate or to fail, what are the consequences?

Subject Areas: International, Comparative & Foreign Law, Human Rights