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Open Access Violence, Amnesty and Transitional Law: “private” Acts and “public” Truth in South Africa

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Violence, Amnesty and Transitional Law: “private” Acts and “public” Truth in South Africa

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Whereas amnesty is generally associated with impunity and denial, in South Africa, amnesty was pulled into the reach of justice and reconciliation. This article assesses the extent to which South Africa's amnesty fulfilled these normative goals. It centers on the difficulty of differentiating between “private” acts and “political” crimes deserving of amnesty. It argues that the determination of political crimes obfuscated the full extent of apartheid violence and responsibility for it. Consequently, the amnesty process produced a truncated “truth” about apartheid violence that was insufficient to the task of overcoming the past. This is in part an intractable problem embedded in the conflicting tasks of transitional law. The lesson of hope that South Africa offers to other transitional nations is that amnesty should be wound into the promises of democracy without creating false expectations of reconciliation or simplistic truths about the past.


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