Transitional Justice and the Memory of Resistance

Posted: 29 Mar 2010

See all articles by Bronwyn Anne Leebaw

Bronwyn Anne Leebaw

University of California, Riverside (UCR)


The proliferation of transitional justice institutions, especially truth commissions, is seen as a victory in the "struggle of memory against forgetting." Yet the memory of resistance is rarely to be found in contemporary transitional justice institutions, which focus on victims and perpetrators of atrocity. This paper examines what it would mean to incorporate the theme of resistance into the theory and practice of transitional justice. One possibility, which Arendt proposed in her analysis of the Eichmann trial, is to examine the failure to resist systems and institutions that are implicated in atrocities. A second possibility, articulated by South African legal scholar, Kader Asmal, is that truth commissions could investigate the role of political resistance to systematic injustices. Each approach is unsettling in ways that are potentially at odds with use transitional justice as a basis for political reconciliation. Yet investigating resistance also illuminates possibilities for political community, innovation, and solidarity that are obscured by the victim-perpetrator framework. Drawing on Primo Levi's essay, "The Gray Zone," I argue that transitional justice investigations might contribute to these goals by acknowledging the shades of gray in stories of resistance as well as the failure to resist systematic political violence, exploitation, and atrocity.

Suggested Citation

Leebaw, Bronwyn Anne, Transitional Justice and the Memory of Resistance. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN:

Bronwyn Anne Leebaw (Contact Author)

University of California, Riverside (UCR) ( email )

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