CHAPTER THREE
Historical Justice

This chapter explores the historical response to evil legacies and the question of what role historical accountability plays in liberal transition. Transitions appear--almost by definition--to imply periods of historical discontinuity. Wars, revolutions, and repressive rule represent gaps in the life of the state that threaten its historical continuity. The questions that arise are: as a descriptive matter, how do societies treat these periods of apparent historical glitch? To what extent is the response to past evil rule historical? And, normatively, in what sense is historical accountability a corrective, ushering in liberalization?

A popular view among contemporary political analysts is that a historical inquiry and record that assimilates the evil past is necessary to restore the collective in periods of radical political change. The claim is that establishing the "truth" about the state's past wrongs, like successor constitutions or trials, can serve to lay the foundation of the new political order:

[S]uccessor government[s] [have] an obligation to investigate and establish the facts so that the truth be known and be made part of the nation's history. . . . There must be both knowledge and acknowledgment: the events need to be officially recognized and publicly revealed. Truth-telling . . . responds to the demand of justice for the victims [and] facilitates national reconciliation. 1

Like the normative claims for constitutions and trials in transition, the normative claim for an official historical account is that it enables the shift to a more liberal order. Collective history making regarding the repressive past is said to lay the necessary basis for the new democratic order. The claim is that this process is essential to liberalizing transition: The transitional history directed at a better future envisions a dialectical, progressive process. In the spirit of an earlier age, this hearkens back to the Enlightenment view of history--of Immanuel Kant, or Karl Marx, whereby history itself is universalizing and redemptive. On this view, history is teacher and judge, and historical truth in and of itself is justice. It is this view of the liberalizing potential of history that

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Transitional Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter One - the Rule of Law in Transition 11
  • Chapter Two - Criminal Justice 27
  • Chapter Three - Historical Justice 69
  • Chapter Four - Reparatory Justice 119
  • Chapter Five - Administrative Justice 149
  • Chapter Six - Constitutional Justice 191
  • Chapter Seven - Toward a Theory of Transitional Justice 213
  • Epilogue 229
  • Notes 231
  • Index 285
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