International Day for the Right to Truth

 

On the International Day for the Right to Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations, IHJR would like to reiterate its commitment to truth and reconciliation in divided societies the world over. IHJR believes that truth has an impact not only on a family or a community, but on the society as a whole. As an institution, IHJR understands the difficulties in addressing a divisive past.

 

Since its inception in 2004, IHJR has worked to promote reconciliation and understanding in divided societies by constructing a common understanding of a conflictual past and by dispelling myths surrounding disputed historical legacies.  An integral element of this process is lifting the culture of silence and denial that too often prevails in post-conflict societies.

On the occasion of this day, IHJR remembers and recognises the important work and values of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, in whose honor the International Day for the Right to Truth was created.  IHJR would like to emphasise  its commitment to and its continuous work in creating a culture for dialogue and understanding in divided societies throughout the world.

The Seemingly Impossible – A Common History Textbook for South East Asia?

IHJR would like to applaud the ambitious project of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – creating a common history textbook for South East Asia. Educators and academics from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, are coming together to construct a common understanding of their shared past by debating disputed historical legacies. Thai historian Kasetsiri Charnvit was succinct about the importance of this endeavour: “Bad history, bad education, bad neighbor relations” in this recent BBC article.

At present, one of the main difficulties they face is the prevalence of territorial disputes in the region. The idea of a shared textbook originated with the escalation of a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over sovereignty of the Preah Vihear temple, situated on the border between these two countries. After Cambodia applied for UNESCO World Heritage status for the temple in 2008, interpreted as a claim over the area, diplomatic tensions escalated and fighting erupted on both sides of the border.

Yojana Sharma emphasises the difficulty of creating a shared historical narrative of the region in this political climate, where “governments assert their claims over disputed territory through the rewriting of history textbooks – at the same time as air-brushing versions that could lead to opposing claims”. In such a climate, writing a shared regional history textbook is difficult, as governments can be reluctant to re-examine historical disputes and reconcile conflicting narratives.

IHJR recognises both the importance of and the difficulties faced by this project. In the past, IHJR was involved in reconciliation efforts in the region, in Indonesia in particular, and will continue to closely monitor these developments.

Publication Download Milestone

The IHJR wishes to thank everyone who has helped increase the number of publication downloads to over 1000 in 3 months. Since our publications were made freely available on our website in November 2013, we have been immensely pleased with the public’s interest in our work.  This outstanding reception comes alongside the development of our new Strategic Plan which prioritizes partnerships and youth education as a more focused way to achieve our  reconciliation in historically divided societies through our theory of change.

The IHJR’s new Strategic Plan charts the activities and goals for the period March 2014 to March 2016 and is the culmination of a year-long process to determine the scope and direction of the institute. This redefined direction will focus on reaching youth in affected countries through partnerships with local organizations and our educational partner institutions. While maintaining the institute’s commitment to developing new research and publication opportunities in divided societies.

If you have not had the opportunity we encourage you to view our publications and download any that may be of interest to you.

Finally, it is with great sadness that I say goodbye to the IHJR. I would like to say a big thank you to all the staff and interns that I had the pleasure of working with. My time has been both personally and professionally fulfilling.

Maarten Rikken

The UNSC, “War, its lessons and the search for a permanent peace”

It was the 7105th meeting of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday 29th January 2014 that marked the UNSC’s first open discussion of shared narratives and reconciliation.

In the course of the four hour meeting UNSC delegates were invited to discuss the relationship between shared narratives and sustained peace, paying particular attention to “sectarian, or ethnic, conflicts, as well as wars driven by extreme nationalism or ideologies.”

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, placed the topic on the agenda with his letter and concept note titled “War, its lessons and the search for a permanent peace”.

In the letter, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein stresses that the United Nations has failed to understand “how it can help forge a deeper reconciliation among ex-combatants and their peoples based on an agreed or shared narrative, a shared memory, of a troubled past.” Throughout the meeting participants were encouraged to consider the risks of an alternative “shallow peace” that lacks solid foundations if the proper to steps to reconciliation are not taken.

That is, if we continue to subordinate “memory” to political arrangements, security sector reform and early economic recovery, among other things, and not elevate it to a higher order of importance, do we not risk, for example, maintaining situations where all we have is a deceptive, shallow peace, or the absence of fighting masquerading as peace, rather than sustainable peace with secure foundations?

In response, the representative from Malaysia, Mr. Haniff, alerted to the IHJR and our publication “Zoom In: Palestinian Refugees of 1948, Remembrances”,

In that regard, my delegation takes note of the work of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, an institution that we believe has benefited greatly from your personal participation, Mr. President. The Institute’s publication Zoom In: Palestinian Refugees of 1948, Remembrances portrays the striking differences in which Palestinian and Israeli youth views photographs from the 1948 Nakbah. The publication demonstrates the need for greater understanding and a common history of the incident, the consequences of which resound to this very day.

The IHJR welcomes the Jordanian Presidency’s call on the Security Council to “think differently and figure out how best to work those very physical arrangements to end the actual fighting to achieve authentic, irreversible peace, reinforced by a shared historical understanding of the prior conflict.”

“Generation War”

The German mini-series, “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter,” made its American debut in New York City last month under the title “Generation War” eliciting strong reactions from viewers and critics alike.

Timothy W. Ryback, co-founder and former director of the IHJR, discussed the premier of the film in an Op-Ed for the New York Times noting that the film made many critics uneasy but gained generally favorable reviews.

One critic sensed an attempt to continue “the self-deceiving lie” that the average German was a victim of Nazi rule. Another saw in it a “work of apologia.” Writing in this newspaper, A.O. Scott found himself in a “strange queasy zone between naturalism and nostalgia.”

The film, which originally aired last March as a three-part series on German and Austrian television under the title, “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter,” or “Our Mothers, Our Fathers,” left some Germans feeling as uneasy as A.O. Scott. A reader of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit was particularly troubled by the portrayal of Polish anti-Semitism and Soviet Army excess. “The depiction of our eastern neighbors reminds me of Goebbels’ propaganda,” he wrote on a blog, invoking the Nazi-era spin-meister, Josef Goebbels.

For Mr. Ryback the vigilant German response to the film means they “will almost certainly make good on their post-Nazi pledge, “nie wieder,” or never again, and in so doing lay to rest some of these troubling ghosts, possibly setting an example for other countries visited by the unquiet ghosts of their own troubled past.”

Find the full article here.

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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 The Hague.