Justice as Unfairness: Robert Hayden’s Lecture

By  Dennis Kontorovich–

In the lecture, “Justice as Unfairness”, given by Robert M. Hayden, from University of Pittsburgh, various issues concerning fairness, judicial action, and transitional justice were discussed. The most important argument that was made in this lecture was that justice is perceived differently based on how you look at it. What this means is that justice is not concrete and what is just from one groups perspective is not necessarily just from another’s. The main way that Dr. Hayden chose to show this was by comparing what courts believe to be just versus what people believe to be just.

He made the argument that people around the world are consistently disappointed with the rulings of international tribunals, even if those tribunals found the person being prosecuted guilty. This is confusing at first because one would think that if the court successfully found a person guilty, then the people or groups who were wronged would support the court’s decision and be happy that justice has finally been served. What actually occurs is quite contrary to this; people feel wronged by the courts because they think that the courts do not fully understand the extent to which the victims have been harmed. Therefore, the people believe that the courts end up passing sentences that are too lenient. This is a clear example of justice being defined differently based on perspective because although the courts serve as protectors of justice, they are incapable of feeling the people’s pain and therefore don’t account for all the suffering that the victims experienced when passing the criminals sentence. Dr. Hayden attributed these differences in opinion to differing views on justice, as well as contrasting goals for the trial. He stated that the courts want to be fair in their ruling. The people, on the other hand, want more than justice, they want revenge for what has been done to them. This brings up the main discussion about what real justice and fairness are and whether or not they are the same thing.

To answer this question, Dr. Hayden brought up the idea of transitional justice, which he defined as “justice which is supposed to help the individual in times of transition from conflict or state repression.” This justice is not how we traditionally define justice because true justice looks only at concrete facts and concrete punishments, whereas transitional justice takes the individual or group that was harmed into consideration. This is done to maintain some sort of peace in the country because at least people will feel like they are somewhat being represented in court when this type of justice is served. So, Dr. Hayden’s discussion boils down to whether or not a victimized group will ever feel as if they have been fairly compensated because it is impossible to put a value on the suffering that was experienced.

The main evidence that Dr. Hayden brought up were the criminal tribunals and international courts that were brought together in Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. He primarily used the book, Death and the Dervish by Meša Selimović as his source. This book brings up the different perceptions of justice, which were the foundation for this lecture. Also, Dr. Hayden relied on research done on the 1990’s in the countries listed above to show that people actually supported the international criminal courts less and less as they passed more sentences of conviction. This research sparked Dr. Hayden’s interest and allowed him to develop his argument.

The main question that interested me was when Dr. Dawisha asked if there really was a better way to determine justice other than the court systems. She noted that all other attempts at justice by the people resulted in massive bloodshed because the people who were originally victimized wanted to make their oppressors suffer as they had. Unfortunately, Dr. Dawisha pointed out that this method is ineffective because it does not resolve any issues, it simply increases the divide between the groups of people who will have to live with each other in the future. Dr. Hayden did not really have an answer to this question because I don’t think there really is an answer. He did acknowledge that when Germany was treated unfairly after World War One, when strict and crippling sanctions were put on it, the outcome of this kind of justice was World War Two and millions more dead. I believe that Dr. Hayden argued that from one point of view, justice was never really served, but on the other end of the spectrum, there was so much “justice” that the criminals turned into the victims.

I agree with what Dr. Hayden discussed in his lecture, but this presentation made me wonder if there really is a better way to serve justice fairly to all parties. He made several interesting points and showed data that I would not have believed had I not seen the numbers behind it. Dr. Hayden said, “All injustices are equal, but one always thinks that the injustice committed against him is the greatest of all.” This quote perfectly captures his argument and really opens the door for a more concrete answer to the question, “What is Justice”, in the future.

Overall, I really enjoyed this conference because it showed me that history is not restricted to decades ago, but is in fact occurring as we speak. This made me realize that my studies of history are more relevant to everyday life than I previously thought they would be because history tends to be cyclical, so by learning from the past, we can try to avoid making those same mistakes in the future. Also, I learned a lot about groups of people who are not typically talked about in our classes here at Miami. It was good to get such a worldly view from this conference. In closing, this conference added relevance to my studies here at Miami.

Dennis Kontorovich is a Senior at Miami University

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