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Simon, B. (2015). How Law, Remorse, and Forgiveness Contribute to Psychological Repair: Commentary on Gobodo-Madikizela. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(6):1141-1145.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(6):1141-1145

How Law, Remorse, and Forgiveness Contribute to Psychological Repair: Commentary on Gobodo-Madikizela Related Papers

Bennett Simon

This magnificent paper by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela announces in its title the notion of “repair,” repair for those suffering as victims of “gross human rights violations,” but also repair for the perpetrators of such violations.

It is my understanding that, by the nature of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “repair” involves two overlapping but separable issues: (1) whether or not amnesty will be granted to confessed perpetrators, in whole or in part, for their crimes, “gross human rights violations” committed during the apartheid regime, and (2) whether or not reconciliation takes place between perpetrators and victims (often the families of victims), a process that includes “remorse and forgiveness.” The first is a legal question, complex enough in its own right. The granting of amnesty hinges on the perpetrators’ agreeing to admit completely, and publicly disclose, the acts they committed and to name others who were involved. It is my impression that the degree of remorse shown was a factor in evaluating the sincerity and hence the truthfulness of the perpetrator. But for the second issue—not strictly a legal matter but rather a process that might lead to reconciliation—remorse is vital for forgiveness to be granted, and thus for some measure of reconciliation to occur. The wish for “reconciliation and reconstruction” in the post-amble of the Interim Constitution of 1991 binds the two parts together.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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