Burying the Past Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict by Nigel Biggar, ed. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2001. 312 pages.)

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John Boye Ejobowah



How should societies that have transitioned from authoritarian to democratic
rule deal with the atrocities and gross human rights violations of their
immediate past? Should those implicated in the crimes of past regimes be
prosecuted? This sophisticated volume attempts to address such questions.
About one-third of the book is comprised of well-reasoned theoretical
chapters that answer the above questions by creating a space in liberal justice
for forgiveness. The remainder consists of empirical contributions that
describe the ways in which international institutions and five countries
(Chile, Guatemala, South Africa, Rwanda, and Northern Ireland) have
responded to such crimes. Unlike the theoretical section, most contributions
here argue that while memory and forgiveness (the truth commissions) are
important, they are not enough to meet the victims’ psychological needs
and do not guarantee non-repetition. The introduction rightly acknowledges
that some of the chapters argue in different directions.
Doing justice in the aftermath of civil conflict is a thorny problem. In liberalism,
criminal justice always has been straightforward: the courts, the
mouthpiece of objective law, have to mediate and impose punishment if the
perpetrator is proven guilty. Punishment must consist of penalties that annul
the advantages seized by the criminal, compensate the victim in the case of ...

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