Justice, not apology

The middle class seems to think saying sorry is enough to move on from gross violations.

Until now, the democratic world had known only two ways of dealing with mass crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It now appears that sections of the media and intelligentsia in India have discovered a third way.

The first is founded on the principle of justice: trial of the accused and punishment to the guilty; even the worst perpetrators are entitled to a fair trial. Some refer to this as the "Nuremberg method" recall the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials of top Nazis.

At the end of Apartheid in 1994, South Africa chose to take a different approach, addressing gross instances of human rights violations through a Truth and Reconciliation process. As different from the principles of retributive justice (focus on deterrent punishment) and rehabilitative justice (aimed at reforming the criminal), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) sought to base itself on the principle of "restorative justice" (premised on equal concern for the victim and the offender, placing emphasis on the harm done to persons and social relationships rather than on the rule of law). Both victims of atrocities and its perpetrators were invited to testify before the TRC. The presumption was that the act of sincere "truth-telling" by both sides, followed by adequate reparation and rehabilitation of victims, amnesty against civil or criminal prosecution to the offenders in select cases, will help heal wounds, bring closure. Some call this the "TRC method".

The Nuremberg method is based on a principle that democracies are familiar with. For the rule of law to prevail, criminals must be tried as prescribed by law and those found guilty must be punished. The jury is still out on the TRC method. A 1998 survey of several hundred victims of human rights abuse during Apartheid, conducted by South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, found that most victims believed the TRC had failed to achieve reconciliation and that, without justice, there could be no reconciliation.

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