THE LIMITS OF ‘DOING’ JUSTICE: COMPENSATION AS REPARATION IN POST-WAR SRI LANKA 

Neloufer De Mel & Chulani Kodikara

This paper examines post-war justice in Sri Lanka not as question of ‘justice simpliciter’ – that is justice in and of itself which takes justice as a self evident category – but as a field of knowledge, power and practice that is, by definition, imperfect and limited by nature. By specifically examining the issue of financial reparation for forced disappearances within transitional justice to open up questions about sovereign practices, survivor expectations of justice and the gap between justice and the law, the chapter highlights the challenges involved in ‘dispensing’ justice in a context which has witnessed systematic human rights abuses and where there is a predictable cost associated with compliance of the law. Drawing on interviews with female war survivors and bureaucrats, literature on critical legal theory, and a scrutiny of the death certificate as a documentary site on which contestations over justice takes place, the chapter asks in what circumstance can ‘limited and imperfect measures’ be yet endowed with the ‘meaning of justice’ for war survivors.

Chulani Kodikara is a Research Associate at the International Center for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is the author of ‘Muslim Family Law in Sri Lanka: Theory, Practice and Issues of Concern to Women’ and ‘Women and Governance’ in Sri Lanka (with Kishali Pinto Jayawardena).

nelouferdemelProf. Neloufer de Mel, is the Director of Studies for the Faculty of Arts, a Professor of English, and a Lecturer for the Postgraduate Diploma and MA in Women’s Studies programs, at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Her recent publications include Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Sri Lankan Armed Conflict (2007), ‘Between the War and the Sea: Critical Events, Contiguities and Feminist Domains, ‘Intervention: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies (2007), Gendering the Tsunami: Women’s Experiences from Sri Lanka with Kanchana Ruwanpura (2006), Bearing Witness: Women’s Experiences of Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka, (2005), and ‘Sri Lanka: Mother Politics and Women’s Politics,’ in Gender Mainstreaming in Conflict Transformation (2005). She has co-edited At the Cutting Edge: Essays in honor of Kumari Jayawardena (2007) and Writing an Inheritance: Women’s Writing in Sri Lanka 1860-1948 (2002).

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