The International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has been hosting a debate about the question “Does Collective Remembrance of a Troubled Past Impede Reconciliation?” since May 4. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence and CHRGJ Program Director of the Program on Transitional Justice, takes the position that this is not the case. He provided opening remarks and a rebuttal to journalist and writer David Reiff, who argued that collective remembrance can indeed impede reconciliation. The debate is an ongoing one, to which people can contribute in the comments section of the ICTJ website, or by tweeting with the hashtags #ictjdebate #whyremember.
The Special Rapporteur gave opening remarks, pointing out that victims of violations cannot choose whether to remember past harms, those memories are there. The question is how to publically recognize and remember a shared history, and “to fill the space which will be filled in any case by some account of the past, deliberately produced or not but more often than not one-sided and incomplete, with accounts that make it more difficult to instrumentalize the past in a way that increases, not decreases, the likelihood of repetition”. Reiff, in his opening statement, pointed to instances in which conflicts have been fueled by manipulated versions of history, and the challenges in reconciling divergent memories of past events. In his rebuttal, the Special Rapporteur points out that the response “to the fact that memory can be used for divisive purpose, is not to do away with the concern for the past, but to make sure that the accounts of the past that are taken to be authoritative are both veridical and comprehensive. It goes without saying that there is no complete account of the past…What is called for are accounts of the past that are sufficient to set inquiry in directions that have been previously kept hidden and that…contribute to putting limits to what is deniable.” In his rebuttal, De Greiff stated that refusing to acknowledge the pain of victims generates new harms and ignores their rights, as “we have the duty to remember everything that we cannot reasonably expect our fellow citizens to forget.”