Sophomore Seminars

Mass Atrocities and Reconciliation


Imagine you lived in a country in which a delusional dictator imprisons untold masses in labor and concentration camps, and kills millions of them. Imagine you lived in a country, in which one ethnic group slaughters the other. Imagine you lived in a country in which a racial white minority terrorizes and violently discriminates against a huge majority of black population. Imagine you lived in a country in which members of one group engage in an "ethnic cleansing" of their old neighbors.

Now imagine this: Some big political change comes to each of these societies, and the perpetrators lose their power and are finally stopped from committing any more crimes and atrocities. Now comes the time to decide how to bring about justice for the past wrongs. It is also a question of how to come to terms with the terrible past. How and where to judge them? Whether and how to punish them? Also, is it possible to ever reconcile with the former oppressors and enemies? Maybe even to forgive them?

Welcome to the questions of transitional justice. The scenarios mentioned above are real ones—they happened in Germany, Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia, and elsewhere. In this course we will explore the particular institutional arrangements societies used to deal with the atrocities of the past. We will scrutinize crimes tribunals and truth commissions, and inquire whether they enabled the victims to gain a sense of justice and fairness. Likewise, we will consider whether those victims were willing and able to pay the price of reconciliation, or maybe even forgiveness.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Pawel Lutomski

"I was born in Poland which, at that time, was under an authoritarian regime, run by the Soviet-controlled Communist party. In other words, I grew up behind the "Iron Curtain." To avoid the political oppression there, I escaped at the age of 21 and lived in Western Europe for a few years. Some years later, I came to the United States as a political refugee and started graduate studies. I earned my Ph.D. at Stanford and a law degree at the University of Michigan Law School. Because of my own life story and my interest in social and political change, I have been passionate about following how societies deal with past injustice and how they reconcile after collective traumas, mass atrocities, and other political conflicts, if at all. The combination of my specific background and education frequently helps my students to connect to these important events that took place in many places in the world, with which they may not be familiar and yet want to know more about."