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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Human Rights in Political Transitions: Gettysburg to Bosnia
Carla Hesse and Robert Post (eds.)

New York: Zone Books, 1999, (Distributed by MIT Press, London)
342 pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 24.95; ISBN 1-890951-01-3.



A significant addition to the discourse of political transitions, this collection of essays examines the creation of human rights policy in nascent democratic states. Hesse and Post have assembled a diverse group of contributors in an attempt to address human rights in political transitions from a cross-disciplinary perspective. This interesting editorial device succeeds by combining the impassioned approach of human rights advocates with classic academic analysis. The volume is organized into four parts. Parts One through Three address punishment, reconciliation, and creation of a culture of law in transitional societies. In their instructive introductory chapter, Hesse and Post assert that "all three of these elements will require attention, in different measures, if there is to be any hope of breaking the cycles of civil violence and transcending the tyrannies of the past" (p.24). In the chapters that expound on these elements, nine authors present essays that are as diverse in style as they are in subject matter. Ranging from the detached and scholarly to the ardent and persuasive, the contributions reflect the inclusion of authors well known to academics and advocates alike. In his essay in Part One (Punishment), Aryeh Neier offers an enlightened explanation for the critical shift in the human rights movement from the primacy of truth to that of justice. He asserts that in Bosnia, individuals openly pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing which has eliminated the need for the establishment of a disclosure and acknowledgement phase. In Part Two, Robert Meister delivers a scholarly analysis of social reconciliation under Abraham Lincoln in post-Civil War America. He proffers convincingly that it was Lincoln's use of a "narrative of common survivorship" which allowed him to rewrite the history of the American past, reuniting former opponents. Part Three of this volume presents three perspectives on the role of law in the creation of a public culture that condemns violence and human rights abuses. Part Four chronicles the international human rights movement in the post-Cold War era, providing the reader with a useful context in which to place the preceding chapters. This volume is not suitable for the reader who is interested in a legally technical or comprehensive examination of transitional justice topics. Instead, it is an excellent cross-disciplinary presentation of the issues associated with human rights in transitional societies and provides an outstanding framework for readers interested in further examination of this subject matter.


Pamela Dickson



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