Victims, Violence & Voice: Transitional Justice, Oral History & Dealing with the Past
56 Pages Posted: 21 May 2016
Date Written: March 19, 2016
Transitional justice is concerned with the legal and social processes established to deal with the legacy of violence in post-authoritarian and post-conflict contexts.
The interview — in different guises, contexts and settings — is at the heart of most transitional justice processes. Prosecutorial mechanisms, truth recovery commissions, assessments for reparations, applications for amnesty — all of these and more are fueled by the art of one human being interviewing another and then presenting or “re-presenting” the material recorded, to make it “fit” with the broader transitional goals of a particular institution.
Most transitional justice institutions are, in the final analysis, “creatures of law.” They are typically established by statute, their work is molded and shaped by lawyers, and their outcomes are benchmarked against what is or is not acceptable under domestic and international law.
In such a context, it is little wonder that some transitional scholars have expressed concerns about the dominance of legalism within the field and the instrumentalization of those most directly affected by past violence.
A commonly prescribed — but as yet largely empirically untested — corrective is that transitional justice theory and practice must become more open to interdisciplinary insights and perspectives.
As a historian now working at a law school, I hope to develop this proposition in this article, by reflecting on the theoretical and practical intersections between law, history, and the interview.
To focus my analysis, I apply an oral history lens to transitional justice, and concentrate in particular on interview-based initiatives that purport to be “victim-centered.”
Keywords: victims, oral history, transitional justice, dealing with the past
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