Committing the Irreparable: Law and dealing with past injustice
Title: Committing the Irreparable: Law and dealing with past injustice
Author: LÖYTÖMÄKI, Stiina Outi Helena
Citation: Florence, European University Institute, 2010
Series/Report no.: EUI PhD theses; Department of Law
This thesis examines the role of law in contemporary memory politics relating to the Algerian war, colonialism and the Vichy government in France. The Algerian war replaced Vichy in the first decade of the 21st century as the major memory preoccupation of French society. In this thesis I explore the involvement of trials, memory laws and restitution cases in the construction of the French colonial and Vichy past as injustices and crimes on the one hand, and as a source of national pride on the other. Law in this thesis is understood as a tool for memory groups, a forum in which conflicting interpretations about the past are articulated, and a narrative activity that shapes collective memory. I argue that civil society actors, victims and human rights organisations in particular, use law and human rights norms in particular, as tools in battles over the meaning of the past. Law offers publicity and official recognition of narratives that have been previously marginalised. Through legal interventions memory groups seek to bring to light the breaches of republican values by the French state, for example the involvement of the Vichy government in the persecution of Jews during the Occupation and the use of torture practiced by the French military during the Algerian war. The emergence of these narratives within the realm of law challenges the official French national self-identification that has for a long time claimed a particular relationship with universalism, anchored in and symbolised by human rights and the notion of citizenship. Also international law recognises and clings to the idea of universalism. International law purports to reflect universal values allegedly serving the interest of all. However, the growing focus on global justice can in practice imply that particular states or institutions use international law as a hegemonic instrument. Despite this, international law is also a potential tool of empowerment for victims and previously excluded groups. Beyond the French case, this thesis addresses the potential of law in efforts of nations to ‘come to terms’ with their pasts and considers what critical working through the past might imply, apart from, or even instead of legal memory politics.
Subject: Law; Interpretation and construction
LC Subject Heading: Algeria -- History -- Revolution, 1954-196; Vichy (France) -- Cultural policy; Collective memory -- Algeria -- History
Defence date: 22 November 2010; Examining Board: Professor Christian Joerges (supervisor), University of Bremen; Professor Martti Koskenniemi (external co-supervisor), University of Helsinki; Professor Antoine Garapon, Institut des Hautes Etudes sur la Justice, Paris; Professor Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, European University Institute.
Final published version: http://hdl.handle.net/1814/34942
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