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Transitional Justice in Ancient Athens: A Case Study

Adriaan Lanni

Harvard Law School

University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, No. 2, p. 551, 2010
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 11-05

This article presents our first well-documented example of a self-conscious transitional justice policy - the classical Athenians’ response to atrocities committed during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants - as a case study that can offer insight into the design of modern transitional justice institutions. The Athenians carefully balanced retribution and forgiveness: an amnesty protected collaborators from direct prosecution, but in practice private citizens could indirectly sanction even low-level oligarchic sympathizers by raising their collaboration as character evidence in unrelated lawsuits. They also balanced remembering and forgetting: discussion of the civil war in the courts memorialized the atrocities committed during the tyranny, but also whitewashed the widespread collaboration by ordinary citizens, depicting the majority of the populace as members of the democratic resistance. This case study of Athens’ successful reconciliation offers new insight into contemporary transitional justice debates. The Athenian experience suggests that the current focus on uncovering the truth may be misguided. The Athenian case also counsels that providing an avenue for individual victims to pursue local grievances can help minimize the impunity gap created by the inevitably selective nature of transitional justice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: Athens, Transitional Justice, Athenian Law, Greek History, Civil War, International Law

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Date posted: January 15, 2011 ; Last revised: January 23, 2011

Suggested Citation

Lanni, Adriaan, Transitional Justice in Ancient Athens: A Case Study. University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, No. 2, p. 551, 2010; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 11-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1740623

Contact Information

Adriaan Lanni (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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