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Copyright (c) 2008 The University of Texas School of Law
The Review of Litigation

REPARATIONS: At the Heart of the Law: Remedies for Massive Wrongs

Winter, 2008

The Review of Litigation

27 Rev. Litig. 281


Natsu Taylor Saito*


What remedies are most appropriate for large-scale violations of law and human rights? A common response involves deflection away from the law: a strictly legal remedy would be impractical because it would cost too much, or the acts occurred too long ago, or the evidence is unavailable, or the perpetrators and victims are too difficult to identify. 2 Therefore, we are told, we must look to political rather than legal solutions. This political focus usually means an acknowledgment of the wrong and, at best, an apology or token monetary compensation. Thus, the discussion of legal remedies is effectively precluded before it has even begun.

As a lawyer, I find this response problematic for many reasons. Most immediately, of course, is its disrespect for the victims of the most egregious conduct, and the incentive thereby created to perpetrate similar wrongs. More fundamentally, it raises questions about the legitimacy of the entire legal project, for a system capable of providing remedies only for minor violations of law, but not massive wrongs, promotes neither justice nor the rule of law. 3 Instead, it is a political machine masquerading as law to preserve a status quo that accepts fundamental violations of human rights as inevitable.

My thesis, therefore, is that lawyers have an obligation to analyze large-scale wrongs primarily from a legal, not political or sociological, perspective, and to take seriously both the law itself and the remedial mechanisms it has created, even when the implications of such an approach initially appear ...
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