The Limits of Transitional Justice

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Hiro SAITO, Singapore Management University, Singapore
Today transitional justice has been institutionalized at the global level to address past violations of human rights. The globalization of transitional justice, however, contains a peculiar contradiction: although transitional justice typically addresses past human rights violations within a single country, the causes of these violations are often transnational. To understand how this contradiction of transitional justice developed, I first trace the historical evolution of transitional justice from the end of World War II to the early 2000s. Specifically, I argue that the contradiction was caused by the dominance of nationalism and imperialism. On the one hand, nationalism legitimates the division of the world into discrete nation-states. Given the persistence of nationalism in the theory and practice of transitional justice, transnationally caused injustices are delineated along national borders. On the other hand, imperialism legitimates a hierarchy of nation-states, allowing some nation-states to dominate others. Such hierarchical thinking has consistently influenced the theory and practice of transitional justice, shielding powerful nation-states from their shares of responsibility for transnationally caused historical injustices. To illustrate various ramifications of nationalism and imperialism in transitional justice, I then examine the so-called “comfort women” issue in South Korea as part and parcel of the chain of transnational historical injustices—the suffering of victims of Japan’s past aggression and of atomic bombings and other atrocities by the Allied powers, to name but a few—interlocked across Asia-Pacific that remain unredressed to date. In conclusion, I explore how the contradiction of transitional justice as well as its ramifications might be resolved, or at least mitigated, in light of transnational and cosmopolitan approaches developed by Ulrich Beck, Nancy Fraser, and other theorists.