One of the main challenges for societies in transition is for victims to recover from processes of dehumanization, and the restoration of their human dignity. Yet this process is seldom conceptualized. In Working Paper no. 3 Sandra Milena Rios Oyola proposes an analytical framework to study the role of human dignity in transitional justice.
The 7 April is one of the most significant dates in Rwanda’s official calendar. This is the day that the genocide began in 1994 and today it is national holiday marking the beginning of a period of commemoration and mourning calledKwibuka– meaning to remember in Kinyarwanda. Kwibukalasts a full one hundred days – the duration of the genocide. While many of the official events happen in the first week, various commemoration events are organised around the country on the specific dates significant to that place, normally when the massacre of the local Tutsi population took place.
Participating for the first time in Kwibuka events this year, I was struck by the eclectic mix of formats integrated into these events. Before travelling to Rwanda, I had been expecting emotionally charged events that focus strongly on survivor testimony. Most events I visited did indeed also include one or two testimonies by survivors. However, the commemorations are also highly official events that are planned down to the minute with sometimes a dozen speeches, always including a lecture on the history of Rwanda, as well as speeches by the most important dignitaries present. These are then complemented by sermons by local clergymen, when it is a religious commemoration event (given the loci of much of the killing in and around churches this is quite common), or by official Kwibuka songs sung by bands or choirs. Unsurprisingly, with the official nature of these commemorations come the practices and conventions typical of such events with long speeches, the pleasantries of dignitary speeches and the inevitable delays until the most important officials arrive with hundreds of survivors and other visitors waiting, often in the hot midday heat.
By my cursory observation it seemed that the testimonies were the most significant parts of these commemorations, even if they were difficult for other survivors to hear and sometimes re-traumatised one of the listening survivors. They are of deep relevance to many survivors as they can relate their own experiences to them and it renders their own memories significant. It seemed to be cause for regret that there were not more testimonies, and attention dwindled during the more official speeches.
Noticeably absent from many of the events were the younger generation. It is possible that the official format and the sheer length of the events proves too daunting to young people. A different picture emerged at a theatre and dance performance by the performance group Mashirika. Gisozi amphitheatre was packed with young people, crowding in, sitting on steps or any space they could find. The modern dance and music performance told stories of loss and reconciliation but from the perspective of ‘Generation 25’, those born since the genocide or too young to remember it. The standing ovations that erupted at the end of the performance told a story of how young people in urban and modernised Kigali can be engaged to think about the past and its meaning today.
Kwibuka is an emotionally fraught period, when people remember, mourn and miss their loved ones, but it is also an important time of political consolidation and consideration, the government seizing the opportunity to remind their citizens of the official version of Rwandan history, warn against genocide ideology and promote their vision of unity and reconciliation for the country. With a government whose central legitimation for rule is founded in their liberation from the genocide this narrative is important to impart on the entire population.
But as increasing numbers of young people who have no experience of the genocide themselves grow up, it is questionable whether the standard format of commemoration will suffice. Instead, the variety of formats needed to engage this next generation of Rwandans growing up in a society no longer officially defined by ethnic divisionism will likely need to expand and transform. While it will remain important to remember the needs of the survivor population, so that they are afforded a space to remember, mourn and commemorate in ways that are meaningful to them, the government will need to engage the next generation in ways that are significant to them, too, if they want to maintain the legitimacy afforded to them through the liberation of the country from genocide.
In this blog post we present the poignant volume ‘Reconstructions – The Troubles in Photographs and Words’. It is a rare work that combines photographs and poems, capturing and blending personal and collective memories of the Northern Ireland conflict. The photos are by world-renowned photographer Bobbie Hanvey who took some of the iconic photos of the Trouble’s defining moments. The poems are by his son Steafán Hanvey, who is a singer-songwriter and poet. We invited Steafán to write about his own relation to memory and art and how it speaks to the memory politics of Northern Ireland. Below, in his blog post, he notes that his father’s photos acted ‘as portals, not only to the past but to the future’.
At the end of the post there are links from the audiobook to three of the gripping prose-poems read by Steafán Hanvey, each linked to Bobbie Hanvey’s powerful pictures. We are very happy and grateful to be able to introduce this work in the context of our research into multi-layered memorywork.
By Steafán Hanvey
I slipped into this world between Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday – on June 22nd 1972 – the same day the IRA considered calling a ceasefire if certain conditions were met; but it wasn’t to be, and the conflict raged on for the next twenty-odd years of my life.
Fast forward to the IRA ceasefire in 1994 – my final year at university – and I’m working as a sound-engineer for a production company in Belfast. Somewhat ironically, for it wasn’t until then – with the Troubles next to over – that I decided to up and leave Northern Ireland for snowier climes in neutral Finland. My intention was to never look back, and I didn’t, at least not until almost two decades later when I set about writing and recording my second long-play record, Nuclear Family.
This intensely personal album forced me to begin sifting through my memories and experiences. I soon realised that the public and political face of Northern Ireland was pressed hard against the window of my private and personal world. In short, my family couldn’t be explained in isolation. After years of ‘whatever you say, say nothing’, I felt the time was nigh to say something, so I ceased ‘houling my whisht’. As an artist, that something had always troubled me, and making Nuclear Family made me realise that though I had never written explicitly about Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland had, in fact, written me.
While I do believe that it is necessary to look back in order to learn from the past, at the same time, to do so comes with its own inherent risks. In ‘The Most Trying of Colours (The Trickler)’, from my first collection of poems Reconstructions – the Troubles in Photographs and Words, I write:
The history-hoarders should quit
keeping score, for numbers
are dead weights and drag a body down …
But swamps and subduction zones were far from my mind when about two years back I received a black-and-white photograph from my father, Bobbie. It depicted Main Street, Brookeborough, his home village in Co. Fermanagh, and a place dear to my heart too for I used to spend much of my school holidays down at my Granny Hanvey’s. No sooner had I received the photo than I had written a poem about my stays with Granny Hanvey and sent it back to my da. I was aware that I had a collection of memories that would have been very similar to his own as a child. Perhaps I was trying to impress upon him our shared experience … despite our many differences. Happily, my da reacted positively to the poem and the foundations for Reconstructions were laid:
Peering down the shaft
I see memories
pulsing in the gloom,
waiting to be re-felt.
Some are the most unreliable of witnesses,
and often the best-forgotten are the least-forgotten,
but still, there they are, and here they come,
like photographs in a chemical-bath,
developing and re-developing
at their own behest.
[Excerpt from ‘Plan B (Unravelling Night)’, Reconstructions.]
The End of Art is Peace
Having just one month earlier become a father myself for the first time, I was enjoying a breather from a prolonged period of touring the world with Nuclear Family and its artistic corollary, a multimedia performance called Look Behind You!™ A Father and Son’s Impressions of the Troubles through Photograph and Song. (More info here.)
As memories, like words, can be as slippery as a new-born child, I opted instead to configure Reconstructions as a series of ‘impressions’, and like Nuclear Family and Look Behind You!™, it too would investigate and promote the notion that ‘The End of Art is Peace’. Together, they would form a notional triptych – complementary panels that told a similar story in different ways.
Portals to a Childhood
And so, I started to revisit some of my father’s iconic photographs from the Troubles, with the intention of producing a poem for each. The photos acted as portals, not only to the past but to the future, dragging me back and propelling me forward as each recollection qwertied onto the computer screen.
I was present at the conception of many of the photographs. I witnessed their act of becoming, and marvelled as they developed lives of their own in chemical trays and beyond. Often depicting disgraceful acts, they nonetheless graced the pages of many national and international publications. Their brutal candour made sure of this.
My da conceived these photographs and I hope that my words do them and their taker — my fathographer— the justice they deserve. I also hope that in my presentation of each ‘reconstruction’ that I have afforded the less-fortunate — those who lost their lives, and those who were hurt and are hurting still — their due respect.
Below follow three photographs and poems (on audiofile) from Reconstructions – The Troubles In Photographs and Words.
(The lady in the photograph was called Sarah Primrose, here with a RUC neighborhood watch patrol).
(The little girl is a member of the traveling community, and is waving a brush at a RUC officer who had been on the night shift.)
The Most Trying of Colours (The Trickler)
(This photo of a procession on St Patrick’s Day in Downpatrick, Co. Down, was taken in the street where the Hanvey family lived.)
We are delighted to welcome guest blogger Maja Davidovic to our website. Read her thoughtful piece on the promise of ‘Never Again’. She asks: what are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s or any other state’s obligations to provide (or offer) guarantees of non-recurrence after a conflict? Where do these obligations originate from and, importantly, do local people act as consultants in these processes? These questions touch upon some core issues to do with memory politics and peacebuilding.
Maja Davidovic is a Ph.D. candidate at Durham University working on guarantees of non-recurrence in transitional societies. She is an alumna of the Human Rights M.A. program at Central European University and has previously worked with migrants and refugees as a researcher and field officer in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece.
Twenty-three years after the Dayton Agreement, these three quotes are only a few among many statements inspired by the ‘Never Again’ promise that regularly appear in different media sources in former Yugoslav republics. Gross violations of human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide all took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during the four bloody years between 1992 and 1995. Although today the country is known for its ethnic divisions, all ethnic groups seem to agree that these crimes are neverto be repeated.
‘Never Again’ is not merely a promise, it is also an obligation. The principle of non-recurrence is a promising one, not only among the political elites in former Yugoslavia but also in transitional justice (TJ) and peacebuilding. Guarantees of non-recurrence (GNRs) have repeatedly been underlined as one of the pillars of transitional justice while understanding the root causes of conflict, a pre-requisite for GNRs, is essential for the building of a sustainable peace. Yet, very few in these fields have asked, what exactly are these guarantees? Who determines them? Who are they for? How have they been applied?
The truth is, scholars have produced very little knowledge to effectively answer to any of these questions. As someone who was born and raised in Serbia, worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has had a chance to observe the two countries from abroad, I am not aware of any guarantees my country has put in place to assure me that it will never commit crimes against humanity again. Likewise, my colleagues in BiH, some of them of Croatian heritage, others Serbian, Bosnian Muslims, or none of the three, do not necessarily feel like any of their legislators, politicians or policy-makers have done much guarantee that they will not go to war with ‘the Other’ again. Nearly a year ago, during my field visit to BiH, some local residents drew rather realistic parallels between the on-going migration crisis and the conflict. They said they have been re-living their war traumas again by seeing hungry and poor women, men, and children sleeping in tents, inhabiting local parks, fleeing war. Their fears of recurrence keep the memory of the war vivid and trauma-prolonging and they are not entirely unreasonable. Ethnic tensions in the region remain at an unsatisfactorily high level and have only gotten worse in the attempts to deal with the thousands of incoming migrants earlier this year.
As a researcher, I had to wonder: what are BiH’s or any other state’s obligations to provide (or offer) guarantees of non-recurrence after a conflict? Where do these obligations originate from and, importantly, do local people act as consultants in these processes?
Researching public international law sources, the jurisprudence of international human rights courts and UN soft law sources shows that there is no consensus on what the legally enforceable guarantees of non-recurrence are. In the view of Pablo de Greiff, former UN Special Rapporteur on TJ, numerous measures such as education, trauma counselling, and the empowerment of civil society can be GNRs. Yet, these largely non-legal measures greatly depart from the standards set in public international law and, to some degree, even the UN-made soft law.
GNRs were known as consequences of diplomatic disputes, dating back to the late 19thcentury. In the LaGrand case involving Germany and the United States, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared for the first time that GNRs are a right of the injured state and that both specific and general guarantees can be state’s obligations however refusing to specify any concrete measures in its later decisions.
Around the same time, the International Law Commission (ILC) was preparing the final draft of its Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. The final version of the Articles in 2002, where the LaGranddecision was used as an evidence of an existing obligation to offer GNRs separately from reparations, codifies states’ obligation to ‘offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition if circumstances so require.’
In the 2005 United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, published, however, GNRs are a type of reparations, just as compensation and satisfaction. GNRs can include ‘any or all’ of eight measures, including protecting legal professionals, promoting the observance of codes of conduct and ethical norms, and reforming laws that could allow for gross violations of human rights. Similarly, GNRs have been considered as reparations by regional human rights bodies, most notably the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which, inter alia, ordered Guatemala to adopt human rights and humanitarian law norms in its domestic law so that systemic violations do not happen again.
This ongoing normative study of guarantees of non-recurrence in international law shows anything but great discrepancies, which are reflected in practice. It is hard to comprehend how transitional justice scholarship has managed to argue that being forward-looking and promoting non-recurrence are its core mandates without a) fully comprehending what sort of non-recurrence a state has an obligation to offer, to whom, and by which means and b) looking more deeply into what states emerging from conflict have done in this regard so far. The recent editorial piece by McEvoy in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, pinpointing to how unexplored this pillar of transitional justice is and stressing the need for further research is a welcoming confirmation of my concerns.
GNRs essentially aim to transform the status quo that led to the violation, crime, or genocide and aid a lasting peace. That said, if transitional justice can promote a set of tools that aim to reach the objective of non-recurrence, this could actually help the field be transformative, while at the same time being reparative. What the scholarship needs is more knowledge of ‘Never again’ practices by those whose obligation it is to ensure non-recurrence and more decoding of the complex web of relationships that can jointly fulfil the promise of non-recurrence or else the transformative (and forward-looking) agenda of transitional justice may remain a purely abstract construct.
At the next stage of my research, I will migrate to Bosnia and Herzegovina to understand what these multiple actors have done, been wanting to do and how they have struggled. How have transitional justice mechanisms assisted them in this mission? Most importantly, have any of these measures been adopted and implemented in consultation with local populations? For, in the end, it is their lives and realities that seek transformations in order to, once and for all, heal, remember, and move forward from perpetually looking back.
Maja Davidovic is a Ph.D. candidate at Durham University working on guarantees of non-recurrence in transitional societies. She is an alumna of the Human Rights M.A. program at Central European University where she did research and published on gender and enforced disappearances and reparations. She has previously worked with migrants and refugees as a researcher and field officer in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece.
In October, Professor Susanne Buckley-Zistel organized a conference on the theme of Space in Peace and Conflict. All members of this research cluster participated. Susanne Buckley-Zistel moderated the opening panel on ‘Interdisciplinary Spaces’, Stefanie Kappler, Johanna Mannergren Selimovic and Timothy Williams participated in a panel on ‘Spatialising Memories’, and Annika Björkdahl held the closing keynote entitled ‘A Spatial Turn in Peace and Conflict Research’.
In 12-15 September 2018 we all participated in the 12th Pan-European Conference on International Relations in Prague, organized by EISA, European International Studies Association. We organized a panel on the theme of ‘Memory, Materiality and the Cultural Heritage of Conflict’ and Professor Annika Björkdahl participated in a roundtable on the theme of ‘Memory and the Politics of Hope’.
We have the pleasure to publish a Working Paper on art in the public spaces of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Curator Danijela Dugandžić analyses a number of fascinating artworks that since the official end of the war in 1995 have dealt with some key themes: nationalism, the role of the international community during and after the war, forgotten emancipatory history and heritage, and post-war reconstruction. There has also been a significant production of feminist art. Dugandžić shows how art can be an urban practice that uses public space as emancipation for those who are less visible, or even invisible.
On 5 March 2018, we hosted the interreligious choir Pontanima from Sarajevo at Durham University. Pontanima are known as an important peace-maker in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, composed of members from different ethnic and religious groups and performing songs from Bosnia’s different religious traditions (Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic and Roman Catholic). Through this, they send a powerful message of appreciating diversity and reconciliation. The eclectic elements of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s religious heritage are thus understood as an asset and precondition in which the trauma of the war can be overcome – based on a memory of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a multicultural nation.
Nedžad Avdić from Srebrenica was travelling with the choir on their UK tour (Cambridge, London, Durham). Nedžad is a survivor of the atrocities that were committed in Srebrenica, having been shot multiple times and witnessing the killing of many others. By telling his personal story, Nedžad is trying to raise awareness of the detrimental consequences of hate of any kind. He says that he had returned to Srebrenica to “show them I am still alive”.
In that sense, one might think the combination of the choir, which emphasises a notion of reconciliation, and a survivor who expresses the need to remember the atrocities, may seem unusual. Is this about retribution or reconciliation?
But it is exactly that that Nedžad Avdić’s story and the choir may be read as: namely the need for suffering to be acknowledged so reconciliation can happen. Independent of which side the suffering has happened, it seems to be crucial for pain and injustice to be recognised and taken seriously if they are to be transformed into a creative energy (such as music, with the example of Pontanima). This does not mean that we need to look at reconciliation as a linear phenomenon or with a clear directionality (suffering > acknowledgement > reconciliation), but instead to recognise the importance for personal testimonies to be listened to throughout.
Peacebuilding, I would suggest, should therefore create spaces in which suffering can be acknowledged. Those spaces can then give rise to conversations and transformations, where the arts can deploy their special impact. This is not to say that acknowledgment alone is sufficient to overcome societal divisions (indeed, a critique that has often been voiced against the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been its lack of focus on material reparations for the victims of apartheid). Instead, it means to engage in a serious conversation with those who want or need to remember and have felt the impact of war on their own lives.
The War Childhood Museum on Logavina 32 in Sarajevo is a new and important contribution to the ambiguous and fragmented memoryscape of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is located close to the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazar and the historical and cultural centre of the city, yet hidden away, on a steep street and not easily found without a map. It focuses exclusively on memories of children affected by war.
The museum provides a careful selection of young memories describing war through the eyes of children. Through memories, testimonies, snippets of texts and video narratives, fragments of everyday life in a war zone are pieced together and as visitors we are transported back in time to the war in the 1990s and to the siege of Sarajevo.
The Museum started off as a project by Jasminko Halilovic to collect children’s experiences and memories of growing up during Sarajevo’s Siege. More than a thousand of these children, now adults and scattered around the world, responded to the call and shared their recollections and narratives, which were compiled in the book War Childhood, published in 2013.
One such narratives reveals the irony of children’s play.
“It is ironic that with everything around us what we loved to play most was war…we called it rat-a-tat-tat” Amir, 1987 (cited in Halimovic 2017: 100)
In addition to collecting the stories of war childhood, memorabilia from these childhoods such as extracts from a diary, a sad-looking, mangy teddy bear, a carefully knitted vest, a young ballerina’s pointe shoes, and a favourite book were donated making up the objects on display in the museum. In the exhibition, every artefact is accompanied by a unique personal story.
My brother’s “children’s police” badge is a short story shared by a sister who lost her brother in the war.
“How happy and proud he was the day that he received this badge with his very own name on it! Just imagine the honor! Imagine, he would be the one to protect order in our street. He could not imagine that he would carry it for such a short time. He could not even imagine that in a single day, during a UN ceasefire…in a single moment that day…in a single step…in a single misstep…that a single grenade…that a single a single piece of shrapnel…would ruin everything. Since that day, nearly twenty-five years ago, I, his sister, have carried his badge in my wallet – proudly, but with a heavy heart. Jasna, 1982 (cited in Halimovic 2017: 250)
Viewing the war through the memories of those who experienced it as children is powerful. The museum is overwhelming in many ways; it is backward-looking, recalling a difficult past, yet forward-looking and hopeful, it is sad and traumatic yet it reflects glimpses of children’s play, cooping ability, fun and wry humour. It is reflexive as it provides visitors from near and afar to confront the war traumas of the recent past. It holds a timeless wisdom, important messages, and it sharpens the eyes to the unique experiences of children in war zones.
In a society divided along ethnic lines it is reflexive, reconciling and forward-looking to establish a museum that avoids reinforcing ethnic boundaries and that belongs to everyone.
By exhibiting children’s memories, artefacts and narratives of war this museum holds the potential to give voice to war children of the past and the present.
Halilovic, Jasminko (2017) War Childhood. War childhood Museum, Sarajevo.