Finding a way to live with the past: Self-repair, informalism and reparations in transitional justice

Sunneva Gilmore, Luke Moffett

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Reparations are widely regarded as a key element of dealing with the past in transitional justice. Over the past three decades, there has been a plethora of state practice, jurisprudence, and international norms requiring states and other responsible actors to redress victims’ harm. Yet in practice there remain significant deficiencies in delivering reparations on the ground to those affected. This article explores what victims and their civil society allies do to manage their suffering in the absence of or delay to reparations. Drawing upon fieldwork in seven societies transitioning from conflict, we suggest that victims find their own way to live with the past as they await reparations, through ‘self-repair’ measures or through ‘informal repair’ provided by non-governmental organizations. This alternative perspective aims to shed light on victims’ agency and resilience, as well as to critique notions of state dependence that a needs and rights discourse often encourages with victims. We also argue that victims’ self-repair strategies and informal pathways can complement more formal measures, and be conducive to victims making the most of state-based reparation programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-480
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Law and Society
Issue number3
Early online date14 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • reparations
  • victims
  • transitional justice
  • self-repair


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