Who Wants to Forgive and Forget? Transitional Justice Preferences in Post-War Burundi
Journal of Peace Research (Forthcoming)
42 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2013
Date Written: September 1, 2012
While transitional justice interventions are common in current post-conflict transitions, recent surveys in such settings suggest that public opinions often vary in their levels of support for such policies. Understanding such opinion is crucial for designing post-conflict policies that properly reflect the public interests. This study uses original survey data from Burundi to interpret public opinions toward transitional justice policies in a post-civil war context. The data reveal a great deal of wariness among Burundians toward punishing human rights offenders or seeking the truth about the past. Why would large numbers of those entitled to accountability and truth express a preference to “forgive and forget”? This question is addressed by focusing on two important features of post-conflict settings — namely (1) uncertainty about the potential for renewed violence and (2) intense competition over how the postwar balance of power should be institutionalized. Findings suggest that the latter feature is indeed crucial: deep partisan motivations associated primarily with ethnicity, and to a lesser extent region, are key determinants of expressed desires to forgive and forget. A reasonable interpretation is that a sense of political gain may compensate for debts owed due to past abuses and induce a preference to avoid the pursuit of truth or punishment lest the political gains somehow be threatened. The conclusion draws out implications for policy and further research.
Keywords: transitional justice, ethnic conflict, Burundi
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