Getting Even or Getting Equal? Retributive Desires and Transitional Justice

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Abstract

This article examines the effect that different policy interventions of transitional justice have on the desires of the victims of human rights violations for retribution. The retributive desires assessed in this article are conceptualized as individual, collective, and abstract demands for the imposition of a commensurate degree of suffering upon the offender. We suggest a plausible way of reducing victims’ retributive desires. Instead of “getting even” in relation to the suffering, victims and perpetrators may “get equal” in relation to their respective statuses, which were affected by political crimes. The article hypothesizes that the three classes of transitional justice: (1) reparation that empowers victims by financial compensation, truth telling, and social acknowledgment; (2) retribution that inflicts punishment upon perpetrators; and (3) reconciliation that renews civic relationship between victims and perpetrators through personal contact, apology, and forgiveness; each contributes to restoring equality between victims and perpetrators, and in so doing decreases the desires that victims have for retribution. In order to test our hypotheses, we conducted a survey of former political prisoners in the Czech Republic. Results from the regression analysis reveal that financial compensation, social acknowledgement, punishment, and forgiveness are likely to reduce victims’ retributive desires.

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