Online proceedings for the IRCT General Assembly and 10th International Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation

Time: 14:10 to 15:40 Download Poster

Forgiveness and reconciliation following human rights abuses. Is it possible? The impact of post-transitional justice in Chile on exiled survivors of political violence

Presenter(s) and co-author(s): Mr. Cristian Pena ( University College London Hospital - United Kingdom , International Centre for Health & Human Rights - United Kingdom )


The Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been described by some as one of the world’s most successful. What do exiled Chilean survivors of human rights abuses living in the UK and Sweden make of the efforts made in Chile to address the atrocities committed during the dictatorship? What is the impact of post-transitional justice in Chile on these exiled survivors? Have the achievements in Chile in relation to Post-Transitional Justice facilitated a process of forgiveness and reconciliation for these survivors? How important is forgiveness and reconciliation to the rehabilitation of survivors of political violence?


This is a qualitative study based on semi-structured in depth interviews with 9 Chilean exiles and survivors of political violence (e.g. torture, detention, exile) during the dictatorship in Chile.
Five of the participants had fled to the UK, three to Sweden, and one to Australia.
The interviews took place in in the UK and Sweden.
The questions were deliberately designed to be open-ended to facilitate a dialogue. The participants were not asked any personal questions related to their own experiences, but were instead asked their opinion on the mechanisms of transitional justice in Chile and what they thought of those.
All transcripts of the individual interviews were transcribed and qualitatively analysed using a social constructionist thematic analysis (Braun and Clarkes, 2006).

Ethical considerations:
Anonymity and confidentiality was reiterated and observed at all stages of the research. Transcripts were anonymised prior to analysis.
Consent to participate was voluntary and all participants were informed of the nature of the study and its aims.
The participants were informed that they had the right to refuse to participate, or withdraw from the study, at any stage and for any reason
All participants had access to psychological support in case they would need it.


- Survivors had little information about the Transitional Justice processes when they were occurring
- They could not contemplate forgiveness and reconciliation without justice
- Some atrocities were seen as unforgivable
- Acknowledgement from the perpetrators was seen as a prerequisite for reconciliation
- They identified the denial and justification of atrocities by Chileans as an obstacle for reconciliation
- The mistrust towards the Right in Chile today was a problem
- They thought that if they forgave the perpetrators, the perpetrators would forget what they had done and violence would reoccur

Transitional justice in Chile was seen as giving an illusion that things were improving.
The power dynamics involved in forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be ignored. Those in power want to maintain the status quo.
Survivors preferred to talk about justice and reparation rather than forgiveness and reconciliation.
Future studies should explore the impact of impunity.

Funding & No Conflicts Declaration

The Author Cristian Pena declares that there is no conflict of interest. Author affiliated to UCH and ICCHR but project conducted independently.

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