Klaas Tindemans

The Performance of Transitional Justice

Martha Minow situates the dealing with past atrocities, in the framework of a radical regime change such as the South-African post-apartheid government, between vengeance and forgiveness. She analyses the different forms of transitional justice – trials, truth commissions, reparations, historical revisionism – and concludes that these processes should maintain open narratives, in order to avoid damaging breakouts of ‘re-memory’. Scars do not disappear, wounds can be reopened in particular political conditions, both victims and perpetrators (or their descendants) can be forced to cultivate their sense of injustice ‘underground’.

All forms of transitional justice Minow comments upon, share a legal character: punishments, forms of amnesty, reparations, they all pretend to be based on firm legal ground, whether their source is local law, international humanitarian law or general principles of law. And once this process of transition, insofar it concerns the accountabilities of perpetrators and/or the moral and material reparation of victims, enters inevitably this legal discourse, it is subjected to the narrative constraints characteristic to it – hegemonic legal theory. The legal discourse has its own rules of narrativity: the agonistic trial as a form, the closure of the story and the protection against undecidability. Although it would be too simple to conclude that the legal character of these transitional process creates its own sources of future violence, the almost unavoidable ‘juridification’ of transition forces all the participants to deal with Minow’s paradox.

In my contribution, I will deal with the theatricality and performativity of legal narratives in the framework of truth commissions. I will start from the dramaturgical presuppositions underlying theatrical performances such as De Waarheidscommissie (Action Zoo Humain, 2013), which deals explicitly with this item, or Rwanda 94 (Groupov, 1999), which starts from a strictly agonistic notion of political justice, and others. The postulates from performance practices should put the premises of legal discourse under pressure, at least epistemologically.