Between Retribution and Restoration: Justice and the TRC

Allen, Jonathan
February 2001
South African Journal of Philosophy;2001, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p22
Academic Journal
How may a society, in a morally defensible way, confront a past of injustice and suffering, and seek to break the spell of violence and disregard for human life? I begin by demonstrating the relevance of this question to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I draw attention to Andre du Toit's long-standing interest in ways in which truth commissions may function to consolidate political change. In the second section of the article, I argue that truth commissions should be regarded as a defensible moral compromise between the values of justice and social unity, and I criticize claims that truth commissions promote transitional justice, when that is understood as a distinctive conception of justice that emerges in circumstances of regime transition. In the third section, I criticize the claim that truth commissions are not a moral compromise at all but embody a superior, restorative conception of justice. I conclude by showing why retribution is required by criminal justice, and why truth commissions must be seen, not as an end in themselves, but as institutions whose function is to emphasize the importance of the rule of law, normal criminal justice, and legal recognition.


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