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Can justice heal?  Must there be justice in order to heal?  Is there such a thing as justice, something to be striven for regardless...

Can justice heal?  Must there be justice in order to heal?  Is there such a thing as justice, something to be striven for regardless of context?

Alexander L. Hinton thinks through these questions in a pair of new books.  The two are companion pieces, each using Cambodia in a different way as a lens through which to look at the notion of transitional justice.  In The Justice Facade: Trials of Transition in Cambodia (Oxford University Press, 2018), he argues there is something deeply mistaken in the way thinkers and practitioners have imagined and employed transitional justice in the past half-century.  Justice, Hinton argues, is much more deeply embedded in localities and particularity than conventional notions of transitional justice allow.  Rather than striving toward a universal notion of justice, what is needed is a deeply rooted sense of the way local actors, organizations and values understand and respond to calls for justice.  Transitional justice requires a thorough understanding of local societies, of the way that global and local institutions intersect and interact.

In Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer (Duke University Press, 2016), Hinton turns his eye toward a more granular question of justice. Hinton witnessed most of the trial of Duch, the Khmer Rouge commander of the S-21 prison.  The book takes us through the trial day by day, carefully observing not just the words spoken, but the manner and responses of witnesses and judges.  In doing so, Hinton asks us to wonder how we should understand someone like Duch, someone who oversaw the murder of thousands of people yet presented himself as trapped by orders and by context.  Using the words of the prosecutor and defense attorneys, he wonders whether we should better understand Duch as a man or as a monster, and asks what it would mean if we accepted his essential humanity.


Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.