Beth Alexion '16 explores how the Athenian model of transitional justice could be implemented in modern war-torn communities

The Athenian defeat at the hands of Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War resulted in the overthrow of democracy and gave rise to an oligarchic regime. These rulers, known as the Thirty Tyrants, subsequently established an extremely repressive and violent regime and although their rule lasted for less than a year, it is believed that they executed up to five percent of the Athenian population, while many more fled the city. Exiled democrats successfully overthrew the Thirty in 403 BCE and reestablished democracy in the city. The reforms that followed included amnesty for collaborators of the oligarchic regime and were widely honored, demonstrating remarkable commitment on the part of the people to forget past wrongs in order to ensure a peaceful reintegration of democracy. In a recent article, Adriaan Lanni considers the ancient Athenian case as the first well-documented instance of transitional justice. Mechanisms for transitional justice, which occur in societies recovering from mass atrocities and human rights violations, often in cases where large portions of society are implicated in crimes by past regimes, include amnesties, trials for high-level perpetrators, and truth-seeking bodies whose aim is to record an accurate account of a nation’s past. My thesis will draw upon Lanni’s conclusion that the ancient Athenian model downplayed the role of truth-seeking in creating a collective memory of the past in favor of reestablishing a stable and effective democracy. My goal is to provide a more extensive comparative study between the Athenian case and modern case studies, including South Africa and Rwanda, with the hopes of providing recommendations for successful transitions in the future.