Our April showcase of undergraduate student research features live events, videos, visual and written research abstracts – and more. Browse this week's research projects, and visit again next week for more projects to come. Don't forget to check out the calendar of live events!
Bilen Zerie '24: National Unity and Justice for Victims: Learning from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (International Relations)
NATIONAL UNITY AND JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS: LEARNING FROM SOUTH AFRICA’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
For many scholars and policymakers, the post-apartheid South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the poster child for transitional justice mechanisms. Its dramatic, widely broadcasted truth-seeking process brought unprecedented international attention and acclaim. However, voices within South Africa maintain that the TRC failed at truly empowering victims. This study explores several questions to examine the unexplained discrepancy in perceptions. First, what was the commission’s framework and guiding principles, and why was this path chosen? Then, do victims feel that the TRC and its workings were in their best interest, and if not, what has disappointed them? To answer these questions, this study draws on primary commission documents, scholarly literature, and studies. In particular, it provides a comprehensive evaluation of every accessible survey on victim-satisfaction towards the South African TRC. This analysis reveals that the commission’s focus on restorative justice and amnesties was established in order to benefit powerful parties as opposed to groups disenfranchised by apartheid. Victims remain disappointed and feel as though their demands for reparations, prosecutions, and structural economic reform were dismissed. This knowledge is critical because transitional justice is intended to prioritize victims by acknowledging and atoning for the abuses committed against them. If South Africa—the reigning example of truth commissions in the public eye—failed to uphold this core tenet, then that issue must be recognized and rectified.