Heroes and Hierarchies: The Celebration and Censure of Victimhood in Transitional Justice

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Victims of past abuses are often the subject of transitional celebration, with previously marginalised and disrespected identities afforded recognition and support. Yet, the celebration of certain variants of victimhood and the censure of others readily lends itself to the creation of hierarchies of victimhood where those who consider themselves or are considered by others to be ‘good’ or ‘innocent’ victims dispute the ‘deservingness’ of other ‘bad’ or ‘impure’ victims. Based on fieldwork in Northern Ireland, this article deconstructs the creation of hierarchies of victimhood within a transitional context. It draws on three overlapping themes – hierarchies of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ victims; hierarchies and heroes for the cause; and hierarchies and ‘the silence of social opprobrium’. The overlapping connections between these three strands illustrates that the idea of a hierarchy of victimhood is in fact much more problematic than a simple division along communal lines. Rather, hierarchies of victimhood are predicated on highlighting the victimhood of one’s own heroes while silencing the uncomfortable aspects of one’s past. The result is not only a partial representation of who ‘counts’ as a victim, but the failure to recognise the victimhood of the vast majority of those affected by the conflict – members of the civilian population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-540
JournalThe International Journal of Human Rights
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2022


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