Political Science Professor Wins Prestigious Book Prize

By Staci Wilson, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
April 26, 2012 

Each year, the International Studies Association awards the International Ethics Section Book Prize—a two hundred dollar prize for the best book published in the field of international ethics. The winner is chosen by a distinguished committee of three scholars who seek to, “recognize a book that excels in originality, significance and rigor in the field of international ethics.” The 2011 prize winner: our very own professor of political science, Dr. Bronwyn Leebaw, for her new book, “Judging State-Sponsored Violence, Imagining Political Change.”

The book takes an incisive look at both the Nuremberg Trials and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the purpose of examining how transitional judgment is (and might be) met. In her work, Professor Leebaw questions the wisdom of practicing criminal justice strategies in order to reconcile state atrocities, as both the commission and the tribunal have, and instead advocates a system that concentrates on political judgment—taking into consideration both complicity and resistance in state atrocities. In her own words, “one of the main goals I have in writing this book is to examine how the frameworks that we typically use to address crime and trauma are limited, in important ways, as responses to abuses that were authorized by the state or political leaders. The book argues that addressing such abuses requires more attention to ‘gray zones’—the responsibilities of people who were not necessarily perpetrators or victims, but complicit in the system or machinery of abuse.”

Professor Leebaw’s interest in transitional justice actually began over a decade ago when she first learned of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her book, she says, actually finds its roots in, “Judging the Past: Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation from Nuremberg to South Africa,” a dissertation she wrote as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley in 2002. “I was interested in the way that truth commissions, like the one in South Africa, were established to confront histories of violence and abuse as part of a process of rebuilding the country,” Professor Leebaw reflects, “and I was especially interested in debates that were occurring in South Africa over the question of what it means to do justice in response to abuses that are widespread and systematic, authorized by those in power.”

For Professor Leebaw, the completion and success of this book only means a broadened interest and concern with international justice. She has already begun new research which seeks to examine judicial practices in relation to the environmental damage caused by war, and even presented a paper on the topic entitled, “Scorched Earth: Environmental War Crimes and International Justice.”


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