Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Africa: Issues and Cases

by Lyn Graybill and Kimberly Lanegran


This essay identifies a number of problematic issues concerning transitional justice and restorative justice in particular and suggests that they can be fruitfully explored through thoughtful examination of the truth-seeking projects of this issue’s case countries: South Africa, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. One debate is whether political transitions genuinely require a unique type of justice or whether transitional justice results from a mere political choice which compromises justice. A second issue concerns transitional justice’s goals. Related to this issue is the lack of clarity concerning the criteria for a successful transitional judicial structure. A third debate is whether truth commissions do actually bring healing and reconciliation among former enemies. Finally, there is a set of very practical concerns that need attention: what are the ideal balances between trials and truth commissions, domestic and international initiatives, efficiency and effectiveness?

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Lyn Graybill is an independent scholar affiliated with the Center for the Study of Mind & Human Interaction (CSMHI) and an adjunct professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is the author of Religion and Resistance Politics in South Africa (Praeger, 1995) and of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa : Miracle or Model? (Lynne Rienner, 2002). She is co-editor with Kenneth W. Thompson of Africa ‘s Second Wave of Freedom: Development, Democracy, and Rights (University Press of America, 1998).

Kimberly Lanegran is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hood College. Her recent publications are “Truth Commissions, Human Rights Trials and the Politics of Memory,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 25, no. 1, (2005) and “Confronting Human Rights Abuses: Lessons from African Institutions.” Journal of Development Alternatives and Area Studies 22, nos. 1 & 2 (2003).