Overcoming Past Wrongs Committed by States: Can Non-state Actors Facilitate Reconciliation?

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This article investigates whether or not reconciliation for historical wrongs can be realized in the absence of a state apology. States have traditionally been notoriously reluctant to apologize for their past crimes, and this has often meant that victims are unable to attain closure while they are still alive. What, then, are the alternatives? This article examines the case of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery, which was held in 2000. The Tribunal was organized primarily by non-governmental organizations: its judgements were neither legally binding, nor was the Tribunal capable of issuing a 'sincere' apology that was the equivalent of a state apology. Nevertheless, this article makes the case that faced with the fact that the Japanese state has not always been forthcoming in acknowledging and taking legal responsibility for its past wrongs, such private, non-state attempts may constitute the best chance for us to accord some victims of war crimes some sense of closure for their past suffering. © The Author(s) 2012.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages12
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


  • 'comfort women'
  • Asia-Pacific War
  • historical wrongs
  • Japan
  • reconciliation
  • states


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