Confronting Violent Pasts and Historical (In)Justice
The legacy of genocide, gross human rights violations, mass political violence, and historical injustice has been arguably laid bare through a whole range of mechanisms: official apologies, vetting, international criminal tribunals, national, or local legal proceedings, truth commissions, official commemorations, restitution, revising school history curricula, establishing monuments and museums, and hybrid trials. Each of these mechanisms seeks to contribute in their own way to accountability, reconciliation, the historical record, victims’ rights, and competing ‘truths’. As the international ad-hoc trials — often instigated in the immediate aftermath of, or during conflict — wind down, we enter a new phase of evaluating the efficacy of these and other institutionalized means of confronting the violent past. We can now begin to assess their impact on the societies from which the perpetrators and/or victims emerged. And what about societies that maintain official amnesia or actively repress the memory of violence with regard to historical injustices? Is there a right timing for addressing the violent past? Should and could historians and historical dialogue play a more instrumental role in these processes?