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30 Hum. Rts. Q. 95 (2008)
The Irreconcilable Goals of Transitional Justice

handle is hein.journals/hurq30 and id is 97 raw text is: HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY
The Irreconcilable Goals of Transitional
Bronwyn Anne Leebaw*
The goals of transitional justice advocacy and institutions are commonly
portrayed as mutually reinforcing and complementary. This article argues that
in evaluating the political significance of transitional justice, more attention
should be given to their irreconcilable goals. This analysis is informed by
the work of legal scholars and political theorists that have drawn attention
to the dual role of law in relation to violence. While law can be a tool
for regulating violence and exposing abuses of power, law is also utilized
to obfuscate and legitimate abuses of power. Similarly, transitional justice
institutions aim to challenge the legitimacy of prior political practices by
confronting denial and transforming the terms of debate on past abuses,
yet they also seek to establish their own legitimacy by minimizing the chal-
lenge that they pose to dominant frameworks for interpreting the past. This
article demonstrates how a better understanding of this tension sheds light
on problematic assumptions and unacknowledged trade-offs associated with
the claims regarding the role of transitional justice institutions in advancing
political reconciliation through measures designed to counter denial, expand
* Bronwyn Leebaw is Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of California,
Riverside. Her previous articles on theoretical approaches to human rights and transitional
justice have appeared in such journals as Perspectives on Politics, Polity, Human Rights &
Human Welfare, and Contemporary Justice Review.
A draft of this article was presented at the 2007 meeting of the American Political Sci-
ence Association. The author would like to thank Brad Roth and Chandra Sriram for their
insightful comments as discussants on this panel. The article draws upon ideas developed for
a paper done by the author as part of her work on the American Political Science Association
Task Force on Inequality and Difference in the Developing World. The author would like
to thank members of the committee and others who commented on the paper, including:
Susan Woodward, John Echeverri-Gent, Susanne Rudolph, Lloyd Rudolph, John Harbeson,
Michael Joseph Smith, and Victor Peskin. For conversations and exchanges that informed
the development of the article, the author would also like to thank Ruti Teitel, Eric Stover,
Harvey Weinstein, and David Pion-Berlin.
Human Rights Quarterly 30 (2008) 95-118 © 2008 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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