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Legal Framing and the Pursuit of Retributive Transitional Justice in South Africa

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This dissertation explores the role and utility of law in the pursuit of post-conflict retributive justice in South Africa. Adopting a frame analytic approach to law in transition, this dissertation examines the ways in transitional justice stakeholders use law as an interpretive device and rhetorical capability to pursue their respective retributive justice goals. At the disciplinary level, transitional justice practitioners rely on liberal legalism to transform egregious acts of violence into discrete legal categories that are capable of condemnation by criminal law. At the organizational level, state prosecutors deploy international and domestic law frames to reconstruct human rights violations as either ordinary crimes or instances of extraordinary international criminality. At the individual level, victims of human rights abuses use liberal legalist discourse to articulate post-conflict justice demands and challenge conceptions of victimhood, citizenship, and state responsibility. This dissertation finds that law in transition can be both enabling and constraining, suggesting a need for disciplinary reflexivity when contributing to debates about the dominance of liberal legalism in transitional justice theorizing and praxis.

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