Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lanni on Transitional Justice in Ancient Athens

Transitional Justice in Ancient Athens: A Case Study has just been posted by Adriaan Lanni, Harvard Law School.  It appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, No. 2, p. 551, 2010.  Here's the abstract:
This article presents our first well-documented example of a self-conscious transitional justice policy - the classical Athenians’ response to atrocities committed during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants - as a case study that can offer insight into the design of modern transitional justice institutions. The Athenians carefully balanced retribution and forgiveness: an amnesty protected collaborators from direct prosecution, but in practice private citizens could indirectly sanction even low-level oligarchic sympathizers by raising their collaboration as character evidence in unrelated lawsuits. They also balanced remembering and forgetting: discussion of the civil war in the courts memorialized the atrocities committed during the tyranny, but also whitewashed the widespread collaboration by ordinary citizens, depicting the majority of the populace as members of the democratic resistance. This case study of Athens’ successful reconciliation offers new insight into contemporary transitional justice debates. The Athenian experience suggests that the current focus on uncovering the truth may be misguided. The Athenian case also counsels that providing an avenue for individual victims to pursue local grievances can help minimize the impunity gap created by the inevitably selective nature of transitional justice.

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

This is a very interesting article although I wonder about the wisdom of attempting to generalize its conclusion so as to have implications for contemporary issues surrounding transitional justice, to wit: "The Athenian experience suggests that the current focus on uncovering the truth may be misguided." The conditions of Athenian democracy were very different from contemporary democratic societies and many of the problems of transitional justice occur in polities nominally, weakly, or episodically democratic, not in (I hesitate to use the word) robust or exemplary democracies (i.e., democracies with histories, constititutions or institutions worthy of emulation in one way or another).