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Mobilizing after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: the use of courts by South African victim''s movements.

Open Panel

Abstract

Previous studies have examined the role of law in the transitional process from an oppressive State to a democratic State. This literature lies within a theoretical framework focused on determining the political or constructivist character of law in transitional societies. However, little is known about the legal mobilization by victims’ movements to challenge the transitional politics. This presentation seeks to examine the use of courts by victims’ organizations in the context of contemporary South Africa. Through an analysis of two legal actions sued before the South African courts by a coalition of seven victims’ organizations and one legal action based on the Alien Torts Claim Act sued before the American courts, I intend to shed some light on the legal mobilization by victims’ organizations after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: First, after identifying the political and social configurations which determine the emergence of these legal processes I look at the factors responsible for the choice of a court. In a second step I present some of the key -individual and collective- actors who participate in the construction of these legal actions, their life trajectories and their social and political resources. In my third point I focus on the legal practices itself, possible variations and the transfer and exchange of strategies via interactions’ networks. Four, the opportunities and constraints structuring the use of law in this context will be analyzed as well as the strategies to circumvent such constraints. Finally I look at the effects of these legal actions, especially the tensions between lawyers and organizations and between victims and representatives of the victims’ organizations. Of special interest will also be the question of whether the participation in these legal processes leads to new forms of mobilization or even to new carrier opportunities.