Questionable Associations: The Role of Forgiveness in Transitional Justice


Saunders, Rebecca. 2011. “Questionable Associations: The Role of Forgiveness in Transitional Justice.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 5 (1): 119–41. doi:10.1093/ijtj/ijr003.

Author: Rebecca Saunders


Forgiveness has gained surprising prominence in transitional justice circles due, in part, to the impact of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, advocacy of forgiveness by educational and social psychologists and critiques of retributive justice in critical legal studies. Drawing on philosophy, psychology, literature, legal theory and records of transitional justice in situ, this article argues that while advocates claim significant personal and social benefits derive from forgiveness, transitional justice should not consider forgiveness an a priori good or as commensurate with either reconciliation or peacebuilding. Before advocating forgiveness as a form of personal healing or social reconciliation, artisans of transitional justice mechanisms should consider that the repression of anger or resentment may be psychologically harmful and that perceived pressure to forgive may cause significant psychic distress. They should carefully consider the ways in which rhetoric or practices of forgiveness may facilitate perpetrators’ ability to do harm, teach victims to make peace with their oppression and reinforce structures of inequality.

Topics: Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Justice, Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2011

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