Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth Nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence

Author: Leigh A. Payne

Duke University Press, Jan 2008

Focusing on confessions to acts of authoritarian state violence, Leigh A. Payne's Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth Nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence (Duke University Press, 2008) asks what happens when perpetrators publicly admit or discuss their actions. While mechanisms such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission are touted as means of settling accounts with the past, Payne contends that public confessions do not settle the past. They are unsettling by nature. Rather than reconcile past violence, they catalyze contentious debate. She argues that this debate—and the public confessions that trigger it—are healthy for democratic processes of political participation, freedom of expression, and the contestation of political ideas. The book draws on interviews, unedited television film, newspaper archives, and books written by perpetrators to analyze confessions of state violence in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and South Africa. Each of these four countries addressed its past through a different institutional form—from blanket amnesty, to conditional amnesty based on confessions, to judicial trials.