I teach a class on ethnic conflict, and this week, we’ve been discussing humanitarian law and what happens to individuals who commit atrocities against civilians (to jump right to the punchline, most go unpunished). While we mostly focused on the International Criminal Court in lecture, our readings and some of the discussion did touch on domestic tribunals and truth and reconciliation commissions. We also debated whether “justice” can really be achieved in these settings. Many students questioned whether justice can really be achieved, but seemed to think there was some benefit gained by bringing these crimes into public discussion.
As we are finishing up this discussion, it always seems a bit ironic to me that our in-depth case for this unit on “Why We Care” is Lebanon, a country that has decided on the opposite approach. Their 1991 amnesty law pardoned most crimes committed during their civil war. This also brought to mind the case of Spain, whose passed an amnesty law in 1997 during the democratic transition from the repressive Franco regime. Spain’s amnesty law has been back in the news recently with the recent trial of judge Baltasar Garzon.
You can read more about the Spanish court case in the BBC article “Spain’s Franco-era probe judge Baltasar Garzon on trial.”
So, two final questions to consider…When are tribunals or commissions necessary to reach closure on a conflict? When is forgetting better?