Document Type


Publication Title

International Journal of Transitional Justice

Publication Date




Human rights are admittedly abstract but remain deeply personal. Often, however, it is easier for transitional justice to grapple with abstracted rights than it is to come to terms with actual human beings with all our indecision, nuance, resilience and unpredictability. A transitional justice brimming with abstractions and guidelines but that condescends flesh-and-blood beings quickly becomes ineffective and dehumanized. The vacillations of the human condition may well exasperate and confound, but they may also surprise and please. They may demonstrate growth and reveal great beauty. Senegalese writer Mariama Ba, in So Long a Letter, recounts how Ramatoulaye responds to news of her adolescent daughter’s concealed pregnancy. Ramatoulaye learns of the news from Farmata, the griot of the cowries. After confronting her anguished and ashamed daughter – holding her at once ‘painfully’ and ‘tightly’ – Ramatoulaye writes to Aissatou, her life-long confidante and daughter’s namesake.



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