The International Center for Transitional Justice has recently launched a new website, called Memory and Justice. The site includes a database of information about selected memory sites – public memorials, sites of memory/conscience, and similar accountability projects – and is also intended as a space for highlighting and engendering discussion “about the emerging field of memorialization as a form of accountability for past atrocity.”

“In 2001, ICTJ was founded in an effort to assist countries pursuing accountability for past crimes against humanity or human rights abuse. The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in other societies where legacies of abuse remain unresolved. The mission of ICTJ is to redress and prevent severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote just and peaceful societies. Public memorials can contribute to accomplishing these goals. In some cases, they can “redress” severe violations by providing victims a public space to be heard, seen, and recognized, and can in this way provide solace. These initiatives can also contribute to the very complex and multi-causal goal of “prevention”. By being visible reminders on the landscape, by developing pedagogical programming aimed at teaching lessons from the past, and in other ways that are discussed on this site, public memorials can help to create the conditions through which repetition of these crimes becomes less likely. That said, these initiatives can also have the opposite effect. In some post-conflict and post-authoritarian contexts, public memorials can fan the flames of hatred and resentment. When they are created to celebrate ethnic or racial superiority over other groups or to lionize perpetrators of abuse, they can sabotage the building of rights-respecting societies. When memorials are created to assign “blame” to certain groups, they can create angry or defensive reactions. In short, we must engage with public memorials, recognizing where and when they lead to redress and prevention, and commenting on when they are not doing this. This website is meant to be a forum for that debate.”

The database of sites can be searched and browsed in several ways, but what I really like is the approach to tagging; selected vocabulary includes not only “prisons” and “genocide” but also terms such as “controversy” and “vandalized,” presented graphically. It’s a selective list; I am hoping they will continue to add to it. See for example, Cambodia’s Choeung Ek, and Timor-Leste’s Comarca Balide Prison. Or Hamburg’s Monument against Fascism, a “countermonument” which was built to disappear.

Also included: a long and informative article written by Louis Bickford and Debra Schulz on the history of the concept of memory and the past within the human rights movement; and a blog/discussion area designed to grapple with questions such as, for example, Do multiple narratives enhance or hinder a memorial’s meaning?


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