Keeping Justice at Bay: Institutional Harms and the Damaging Cycle of Reparative Failure
Free Public Lecture
Public Lecture Theatre
T: (03) 9035 5092
The grand claims of nations and their institutions ostensibly keen to repair injustice are often undermined by the design and implementation of the processes they employ to provide redress and resolution. The establishment of mechanisms such as tribunals, national inquiries and truth and reconciliation commissions can result – often for reasons of political expediency – in the exclusion of certain categories of crime from investigation, an emphasis on individual rather than structural or institutional harm, inadequate delivery of reparations, and deficient forms of accountability. In addition, these processes may simply be seen as ends in themselves, without any commitment to effect measures of justice.
This lecture will question the ambitious undertakings of states and institutions to ‘move forward’ or exercise ‘zero tolerance’ in relation to crimes of systemic injustice, including violence against women and racism. Drawing on studies from South Africa and Australia, the lecture explores how national exposure of violations through inquiries, commissions and the media can offer a critical starting point for developing and implementing measures of ‘transformative reparation’ that seek to erode the conditions enabling structural and institutional harm. It will argue however that the short-circuiting of this process by those with the power to effect change, suspends and inhibits transformation, entrenching a cycle of reparative failure which undermines hope, fuels cynicism and delays recovery.