Settling Claims for Reparations

Journal of Race, Gender, and Ethnicity 11 (1):60-79 (2022)
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The scale and character of past injustice can seem overwhelming. Grievous wrongdoing characterizes so much of human history, both within and between different political communities. This raises a familiar question of reparative justice: what is owed in the present as a result of the unjust actions of the past? This article asks what should be done in situations where contemporary debts stemming from past injustice are massive in scale, and seemingly call for nonideal resolution or settlement. Drawing on recent work by Sara Amighetti and Alasia Nuti on deliberative reparative processes, the article differentiates between two different approaches to settling claims for reparation. The first pursues settlement in a legal or quasi legal sense, seeking to close a matter through discussion, compromise, and bargaining in such a way as to maximize one’s interest while drawing a line under the events in question. The second is grounded not in one’s own interest but in an acknowledgement of the inevitable inadequacy of one’s reparative response. Such an approach to settlement centres the agency of the individuals and groups harmed by past wrongdoing. The article examines the reparations issue with reference to a range of recent cases of alleged settlement, including claims for reparation for torture by the British army in Kenya in the 1950s, for sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in East Asia in the Second World War, and for genocide by German colonial forces between 1904 and 1908.

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Daniel Butt
Oxford University


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