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Although addressing the needs of victims is increasingly proffered as the key rationale for transitional justice, serious critical discussion on the political and social construction of victimhood is only tentatively emerging in the field. Drawing from Anglo-American victimology, the first part of this paper suggests that victims of crime as a category are often perceived as the mirror opposite of perpetrators of crime. It suggests that such a perspective narrows the notion of victims’ rights or needs so they become intrinsically linked to the punishment of perpetrators; that victims and perpetrators are reified and distinct categories; and that ‘true’ victim status demands innocence. The second part of the paper takes these insights and applies them to the context of transitional justice. In particular, it questions the notion of ‘innocence’ as a prerequisite for victim recognition and explores the ways in which victims and perpetrators are not always easily identified as distinct categories in conflicted or transitional societies. The paper concludes that incorporating blame in the calibration of human suffering results in the morally corrosive language of a ‘hierarchy of victims’.

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Journal article


Sage Journals

Publication Date



9 (5)


527 - 538