The IHJR would like to give a warm thank you to our bloggers, Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts, for their fascinating insights on the relationship between history and the courtroom. Over the past several weeks, they have attended firsthand courtrooms in The Hague to inform us about the complexities of justice and history as it plays out in practice. In the future, we hope that we can continue to engage in stimulating discussions about reconciliation in current events. We hereby present their final blog post:
When we started on this blog a while back, we ended our first post with the desire to answer two intriguing questions: “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?”
In the weeks after this first post we have attended multiple high profile international court proceedings at the Special Tribunal of Lebanon and International Criminal Court in the attempt to answer these questions from an extra-legal, interdisciplinary standpoint. We learned at the STL that there is always a contradiction and tension in how law both uses and creates history. We saw at the two ICC status conferences the way the very authority of these legal narratives are challenged by dissenting narratives, and how such contestation means that law can have an impact on a grassroots level that is potentially at odds with its goals of peace and reconciliation.
But if anything, the more facets of the law we have witnessed, the more ambiguous everything seems and the more questions we have. Even as we gained a better understanding of law’s limitations, we realized we had no roadmap as to how to account for the truth of the past, nor how to bring reconciliation – rather than certainty, truth and justice, we saw only contingency, unpredictability, and unknowability.
Perhaps the one thing we have learned is humbleness in face of what we do not know. Some might say that this is a cynical position to take, but we would say that is a hopeful one, full of possibilities. It is knowing that we do not know – and that we may never have the perfect answer as to how to deliver justice and the truth of the past – that gives us the desire to know, to figure it all out. It is this desire that is the impetus behind our desire to listen to narratives and tell stories in the first place.
And as we have seen, narratives matters. Storytelling matters, because it illuminates that magical, mysterious process in which we recall the way the narratives of the past are told, retold, forgotten, remembered and re(discovered) – (conveyed, perhaps, in the curious way even now the word for “history and “story” in French is the same: histoire). Storytelling as offering the very potential for the past reveals the way that history was always meant to be a companionable process between the speaker and the listener, between performer and witness. In this way, the desire to storytell, our engagement with history because we do not know, has always been a dialogue.
A dialogue never needs to end. Even though we, Tiffany and Ludo, are now saying goodbye to the blog, this is hardly a final conclusion. The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation will be looking for other students to explore the relationship between narratives, justice and reconciliation. We hope that our investigation these past few weeks have been enough to encourage that own glimmer of doubt in you and chiseled at the fault lines of rock solid certainty.
Or, in the words of the great Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
We hope that you will all continue to listen, to question, and to carry on this dialogue.