SAUNDERS, Rebecca. Lost in translation: Expressions of human suffering, the language of human rights, and the South African Truth and reconciliation commission. Sur [online].
vol.4Selected edition, pp. 0-0.
This essay examines what is gained and lost when expressions of human suffering are translated into a standardized language of human rights. I argue that South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission demonstrates the ways that this translation makes human suffering both legible and illegible. While the language of human rights functioned in powerful ways to establish a previously unacknowledged history in South Africa, identify and grant dignity to victims, and occasionally designate responsibility, I argue that it also disfigured the testimony of victims in ways that alienated them from their own experience and sometimes re-traumatized them, and that it often proved more useful to perpetrators than to victims. I also contend that the promise of healing in which the Commission wrapped its human rights message prioritized national over individual forms of healing, and allowed the South African government to substitute spiritual and symbolic forms of reparation for material ones.
Truth commission; South Africa; Human rights language; Trauma; Healing; Reparation.