A line under the past: Performative temporal segregation in transitional justice

Thomas Bentley* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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After human rights violations, states frequently employ the discourse of “closure” or “drawing a line under the past” as an exculpatory device that situates the wrongdoing in an ontologically discreet and normatively inferior past, a maneuver I term “performative temporal segregation.” Recognizing the United Kingdom’s 2010 apology for Bloody Sunday as an example of temporal segregation, I draw on interviews with relatives of Bloody Sunday victims and other stakeholders to examine how the apology’s recipients have variously resisted and embraced the performative segregating of time. Although many relatives remain enthusiastic about the apology, temporal segregation is challenged by others in three ways: (1) by deriding the apology, (2) by framing it as a stepping stone toward justice rather than an endpoint, and (3) by critically reassessing it over time. I thereby demonstrate that victims and governments can have irreconcilable conceptions of the purpose of apology as a transitional justice mechanism. Nevertheless, participants almost universally embraced closure as a desirable and achievable objective, primarily through prosecutions. This, ironically, entails recognizing that the colonial state can dispense justice and arbitrate on temporality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)598-613
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number5
Early online date8 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank all the interviewees that partook in this project. I am also grateful to Berber Bevernage and Maja Davidovic for their thoughtful engagement with earlier drafts of this work.
Research for this article was funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.


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