Presenting our bloggers: Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts

The IHJR hereby welcomes Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts, two students of the University of Leiden who will be writing a series of blog posts about the relationship between criminal courts and history, showing how the law actively consumes and produces historical narratives. Focusing on relevant cases from around the world, they will reflect on how the law plays a role in processes of reconciliation in divided societies. We hope you will enjoy some of the posts to come and we invite you to make your voices be heard and engage us on social media if you have any comments.



One of the most common responses that we’ve received when we tell people that we’re interning at the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation is a nod of polite befuddlement, and the almost inevitable – “That’s so interesting… so what is it exactly that you do there?”

It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Here in Leiden and especially in nearby the Hague, the center of international justice and international courts, the more quiet and less conventional operations of the IHJR might be overshadowed. Talking about the need for creating collective historical narratives as a form of transitional justice and reconciliation can seem too abstract and removed when compared to the more traditional notion of criminal justice in the form of court proceedings, legal procedural debates and delivered sentences. In comparison, the rationale for criminal justice is straightforward enough: it is only through the Rule of Law that the facts can be pieced together, so that we can then determine the truth of the past and punish those responsible for the crime.

Yet, justice and reconciliation is far from as simple as legal logic might suggest, and here at the IHJR, we have been given the space to critically explore and question these “given truths” that seem self-evident at first glance. To be clear, we are not opposed to international courts; we too are passionately committed to the aspirations of the law towards justice and reconciliation. At the same time, we also strive to be aware of its shortcomings.

Drawing upon the works of French philosopher Raymond Aron, journalist Philip Gourevitch commented that human rights and the rally for justice –   a “grandiose and poetic enterprise where we, as a people, fight against exploiters” –  is one

based on a “notion of purity”: “It’s ‘not about taking responsibility for a decision ‘in unpredicted circumstances, based on incomplete knowledge’ (…) Instead, human rights function as a refuge for utopia.”[1]

The utopian dimension of the fight against injustice has always inspired faith and imagination in the possibility of a better world of “dignity and respect.”[2] Yet, the danger is that, in our hubris, we assume that the utopia already exists in this world – that we have already found the “perfect solution” in our existing legal institutions, which will always be unable to fully accommodate for the contingencies and unpredictability of its own “Speech” and “Action.” This is not a cynical condemnation, but simply, as Hannah Arendt writes beautifully, the reality of “The Human Condition.”[3]

Thus, we are idealists, but not naive, and this blog is very much a reflection of that: it aims to be an open, critical exploration of what the possibilities and limitations of international criminal courts are, without seeing within them a “refuge” for “utopia.”



So who are ‘we’, the authors of this blog? We are a duo, Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts, two students from very different backgrounds, both when it comes to our fields of study and our personal backgrounds:

Tiffany is currently an exchange student studying International Law in Leiden University. She previously spent most of her life in China and Taiwan before going to the US for college, where she studies Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College. Her international experiences helped foster her curiosity in comparative understandings of the law and differing norms of justice. She is primarily interested in examining the law from an interdisciplinary perspective, and is fascinated by the ways in which the law comes into congruence and non-congruence with its own aims of justice and truth.

Ludo on the other hand is a Dutch master’s student of Colonial and Global History at Leiden University, the Netherlands. Being born and raised in the Netherlands, he grew up in a very standard Dutch household, but this didn’t stop him from understanding that the world is much larger than The Netherlands or even Europe. His focus lies on investigating and questioning the uses and abuses of history in our modern day societies. He raises questions such as: How, and why, do people in the present choose to strategically use history in their daily lives? Or why do they tend to avoid it in other situations? Where do narratives and memory end and history begin?

We believe that a synthesis of our different disciplinary approaches will allow for a more nuanced understanding of the sometimes contradictory, yet mutually generative relationship between the law and history.



What exactly is the relationship between justice and history? This question is at the center of our exploration. It’s a question open to multiple interpretations and how one answers it is based heavily on one’s personal beliefs and ideas. For us the judicial system is both a consumer of history and a creator of history and can therefore have a great impact on the, often very much divided, societies involved.

For us law thus has a double relationship with history. Law as a consumer of history comes down to the point that legal claims cannot be made without going back in time. Without a proper examination of the past ‘right’ can never be separated from ‘wrong’. Judges need to know what happened in a specific case at a specific place at a specific moment in time to be able to make a fair judgment. In this way they ‘consume’ the past.

At the same time legal systems are also creators of history. Because the goal of courts is to separate right from wrong, they will therefore also validate one story of what has happened over others. The acceptance and validation of one story of history by a judge gives that version a different status than the story of what has happened by the person proven wrong by the judge. This validation of one version of history over another can, as we will show, have a major influence on the day to day realities of the communities whose history has been judged.

This double relationship between the concepts of history and justice and its consequences for the communities involved will be the main lens through which we will analyze the different cases in our blog.



The mission of this series of blog posts is twofold. Firstly, we take a non-legal approach to international trials, by trying to present to you how historical narratives are used, abused, neglected, and created in international criminal trials. We will also look at how the ‘history’ put forward by these courts influence processes of reconciliation and mutual understanding on a grassroots level.

We will focus mainly on the current international criminal trials taking place in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the International Criminal Court. In particular, we will be covering the following cases:

  1. Case of Ayyash (STL-11-01)
  2. Contempt case against Al Jadeed TV and Ms Khayat (STL-14-05)
  3. ICC Gbagbo/Blé Goudé status conference

Our blog posts will focus on courtroom observations of open sessions, along with insights gleaned from relevant lectures and academic sources.

The second part of the mission of this blog is to inspire you to think, question and perhaps even rethink your own assumptions about the relationship in everyday practice between such abstract concepts as history, justice and reconciliation. We are hardly experts, and we too will struggle with the complicated and intertwined linkages of these concepts in practice, but we invite you to struggle with us in these coming weeks.

This blog will therefore act as a place for our, and hopefully also your own, open exploration of the broader issues that we are ultimately wrestling with: What is the best way to render justice and reconciliation in societies torn apart by strife and atrocities? What are the things we might hope for through legal institutions, and where might we go from here?




[1]Gourevitch, Philip. “Mass Murder Relies on People Like Us: An Interview With Thierry Cruvellier.” The New Yorker. N.p., 15 May 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

[2]Moyn, Samuel. The last utopia. Harvard University Press, 2010.

[3]Arendt, Hannah. The human condition. University of Chicago Press, 2013

‘Crossing Borders’ now in Istanbul

The IHJR is very proud to announce that the Institut Français in Istanbul will, in partnership with the IHJR, launch a photo exhibition ‘Franchir les Frontrières’ in Istanbul on March 26 to May 7, 2015.

The exposition is based on the IHJR project ‘Crossing Borders between Turkey and Armenia’, marked by a landmark photo exhibition launched at the City Hall in The Hague in November 2013.

The IHJR and the Institut Français are presenting a visual dialogue between two photographers: Zaven Khachikyan (Armenia) and Mesut Tufan (Turkey) who traveled separately through the borderlands of Turkey and Armenia, documenting the cultures, architecture, and every-day life of its people.

We warmly invite all of you to visit this unique photographic exposition at the Institut Français in Istanbul!

Panel Discussion: From Conflicting Narratives to Peace and Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine

On 4 March, The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, Leiden University and The Hague Institute for Global Justice are hosting Professor Motti Golani, Chair of the International Israel Studies Program of Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Adel Manna, Senior Research Fellow of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, who will present their joint IHJR-publication on peace and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.

In the Israel and Palestine conflict, history is only rarely used for its potentially transformative role in the peace process. To strengthen the potentially powerful role the study of historical narratives may play in conflict resolution, and to reflect on the contribution played by professional historians and educators the organizers have selected two eminent scholars to discuss their research on the 1948 War, a crucial historical moment for Palestinians and Israelis.

During the event, Professor Motti Golani, Chair of the International Israel Studies Program of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Adel Manna, Senior Research Fellow of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute will present their joint IHJR-publication Two Sides of the Coin: Independence and Nakba 1948 – Two Narratives of the 1948 and its Outcome. Professor André Gerrits, chair of the International Studies Program at Leiden University will moderate the debate. Ambassador Nikola Dimitrov, Distinguished Fellow at The Hague Institute, will provide an introduction.

4 March 2015 – 16:00 to 17:30

The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Sophialaan 10, The Hague

Register for this event here.


IHJR Scholars visiting Leiden

Side-event photo ISSA interviews Dino

IHJR is proud to announce that the course it has co-organised with the Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University on ‘Collective Memory: A Shared Historical Narrative in Reconciliation’ was successfully launched on February 2, 2015.

The purpose of this course is to offer MA students in International Relations a multiperspective approach both from an academic and a practitioners’ perspective on selected conflict and post-conflict situations.

This semester, the regions  studied are the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and its successor states, Israel-Palestine and Aceh.

Over the past two weeks,  IHJR’ s guest scholars: Prof. Mitja Velikonja from the University of Ljubljana, Dr. Dino Abazović from Sarajevo University, and Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at Hebrew University,  have shared their academic expertise and insider’s knowledge from their regions.

In addition to the curriculum of the course, IHJR and  the International Studies Student Association of Leiden University have organized a side event on the 10th of February. Prof. Mitja Velikonja and Ties Schelfhout from IHJR made a presentation  respectively  on retro and nostalgic phenomena in Slovenian music and on IHJR’s cultural project of photographic exhibition ‘Crossing Borders Between Armenia and Turkey’.

On February 12, IHJR and Leiden University held a public debate with Prof. Mitja Velikonja, Dr. Dino Abazović, Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze’ev and moderated by Prof. André Gerrits on ‘From Divided Memories to Reconciliation, Transformation in the Western Balkans and the Middle East’. It was followed by a lively discussion with the audience, which included several ambassadors and many students and scholars.

In March the lectures will be given by Prof. Motti Golani , Dr. Adel Manna, Ambassador Pieter Feith (Previously Head of the EU-led Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) in Indonesia) and Judge Koffi Affandé ( ICTY).

On the 4th of March, IHJR, Leiden University and The Hague Institute for Global Justice are co-organizing a public event on the theme of the conflicting historical narratives in Israel-Palestine. IHJR’s guest scholars  and authors of the book ‘Two Sides of the Coin: Independence and Nakba 1948 – Two Narratives of the 1948 and its Outcome’. Prof. Motti Golani (Chair International Israel Studies Program Tel Aviv University, Israel) and Dr. Adel Manna (Former Director of the Academic Institute for Arab Teacher Training at Beit Berl College and current Senior Research Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute) will lead the discussion under the chairmanship of Professor André Gerrits.


IHJR’s First Leiden Debate on ‘From Divided Memories to Reconciliation, Transformation in the Western Balkans and the Middle East’

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and Leiden University are pleased to invite you to attend the panel discussion ‘From Divided Memories to Reconciliation, Transformation in the Western Balkans and the Middle East’

Today, in the Western Balkans and Middle East, unresolved historical legacies are major obstacles to reconciliation. A panel of three renowned scholars from Israel, Bosnia Hercegovina and Slovenia will provide an analysis and their fresh perspectives on reconciliation in their region.

The event will take place February 12 from 16:00 to 17:30 at the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University – Lipsius Room 003 (located at Cleveringaplaats 1, 2300 RA Leiden)

Panel Members:

The panel will be chaired by Professor André Gerrits, Chair of International Studies, Leiden University.

Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University, Israel

Mitja Velikonja, Professor for Cultural Studies and head of Center for Cultural and Religious Studies, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dino Abazović, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We look forward to seeing you the 12th of February!


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The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) works with educational and public policy institutions to organize and sponsor historical discourse in pursuit of acknowledgement, and the resolution of historical disputes. Founded in 2004, the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) is an independent, nonprofit institution based in Leiden.