While the dominant human rights discourse on transitional justice constitutes a mix of reinforcing aims that seek to “make peace with” a violent past, this article complicates this notion by exploring how affective memories can prevent individuals from envisioning a future for themselves in which their individual and their nation's past is safely left behind. In the context of ongoing debates over whether to remember or forget a country's traumatic past, the article will show how affective memories of violence and disappearance prevail and disrupt the reconciliation paradigm, and need to be taken into account in transitional justice processes.
The research for this paper is based on oral testimonies that the author collected in 2009 in Argentina as part of her PhD research. These testimonies were taken from two groups of women: those whose family members were kidnapped and murdered by armed political groups between 1973 and 1976, and those whose family members were kidnapped, disappeared or murdered by the military government between 1976 and 1983. The interviewees emphasized their preference for disclosing both their names and the identities of their missing/killed family members. For many of the families of the disappeared in particular, publicly repeating the name of their loved ones at any opportunity is highly significant to restoring their personal identity. All translations of the women's quotes are author's own. The interviews are on file with the author.
1 Butler, Judith, “Violence, Mourning, Politics”, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2003.
2 A number of such terms have emerged within the field of transitional justice to describe strategies and initiatives used to achieve justice and to build trust among adversarial communities. Discourse around national reconciliation has more recently relied upon a therapeutic model that seeks to heal wounds in connection with past violence and focuses on recognition of the victims of violence to recover sovereignty. See Humphrey, Michael, “Reconciliation and the Therapeutic State”, Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2005.
3 Millar, Gearoid, “Assessing Local Experiences of Truth-Telling in Sierra Leone: Getting to the “Why” through a Qualitative Case Study Analysis”, International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol. 4, No. 3, 2010.
4 Dawson, Graham, Making Peace with the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Troubles, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2007, p. 84.
5 Rigney, Ann, “Reconciliation and Remembering: (How) Does It Work?”, Memory Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2012.
6 David Rieff, “The Cult of Memory: When History Does More Harm than Good”, The Guardian, 2 March 2016, available at: www.theguardian.com/education/2016/mar/02/cult-of-memory-when-history-does-more-harm-than-good (all internet references were accessed in September 2019).
8 Pablo de Greiff, “The Duty to Remember”, 16 May 2016, available at: www.ictj.org/debate/article/duty-remember.
11 Following Maithripala Sirisena's election in 2015, the government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored UN Resolution 30/1, “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/30/1, 14 October 2015. The resolution envisaged the setting up of a permanent Office on Missing Persons, a truth-seeking commission, a judicial mechanism with a special counsel, and a reparations office. See also Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, UN Doc. A/HRC/37/17, 29 December 2017; Human Rights Council, Resolution 40/1, “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/40/1, 4 April 2019.
12 Some of the most recent trials include those of former military soldiers who committed crimes against humanity in relation to the infamous “death flights” in which prisoners were sedated, stripped of all their clothing and thrown into the sea. Retired navy captain Adolfo Scilingo, who admitted to participating in two of the weekly “death flights”, calculated that during his two years at the ESMA detention centre, over “a hundred Wednesdays, between 1500 and 2000 people” were thrown into the Rio de la Plata: see Feitlowitz, Marguerite, A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, p. 196. See also “Former Officials Convicted in Argentina's ‘Dirty War’ Trial”, Deutsche Welle, 30 November 2017, available at: www.dw.com/en/former-officials-convicted-in-argentinas-dirty-war-trial/a-41594632.
13 Affect can be used as a broad term to refer to emotions, feelings, and affects in the narrower sense. Though these definitions are often used interchangeably, it is important to define the difference between the three. “Feelings are personal and biographical, emotions are social, and affects are prepersonal.” Displays of emotion can be “genuine or feigned”; when we relay our emotions publicly, they may be an expression of our genuine feelings or they may be contrived in order to fulfil societal norms. Meanwhile, affects are more abstract than emotions because they “cannot be fully realised in language”. They are non-conscious and unformed, and refer to “the body's way of preparing itself for action in a given circumstance”, with an added dimension of intensity. See Shouse, Eric, “Feeling, Emotion, Affect”, Media-Culture Journal, Vol. 8, No. 6, 2005, paras 2, 4, 5.
14 CONADEP's brief was to receive depositions and gather other forms of evidence, and to pass this information on to the courts, where responsibility for crimes committed would be determined. See CONADEP, Nunca más: Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, Faber, London, 1986, p. 449.
16 In the mid-1990s, Nunca más was no longer regarded as a legal instrument but was seen as a vehicle for the transmission of memory. The 2006 administration of Nestor Kirchner encouraged the publishing of a new official interpretation of the original report, with the addition of a new prologue written by the national secretary of human rights. See Crenzel, Emilio, “Between the Voices of the State and the Human Rights Movement: Never Again and the Memories of the Disappeared in Argentina”, Journal of Social History, Vol. 44 No. 4, 2011, p. 1072. The prologue was critical of the explanation given for the political violence described in the original report, stating that it was “unacceptable to attempt to justify State terrorism like a sort of game of counteracting violence, as if it were possible to look for a justifying symmetry in the action of individuals faced with the Nation and the State's estrangement from their proper goals”: see CONADEP, Nunca más: Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, 7th ed., Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, 2006, pp. 8–9, author's translation. As Crenzel explains, the new prologue failed to place the political violence in its historical context, and did not establish civil and political responsibilities for the violence. Taking on a social justice tone, the report excluded any mention of guerrilla and political activity from the lives of the disappeared, and talked instead of the human rights movement's thirty-year struggle for “truth, justice, and memory”.
17 Alfonsín's successor, Carlos Menem, adopted a policy of forgetting the past when, on taking power in 1989, he extended pardons to military personnel who had been convicted of human rights violations.
18 For example, in December 1986, concerned about the destabilizing threat that a status of never-ending trials posed to an already rocky democratization process, President Alfonsín pursued measures to limit the number of prosecutions and placed a sixty-day statute of limitations on criminal complaints against the military officers, which became known as the Ley de Punto Final (Final Stop Law). He also introduced the controversial Obediencia Debida, or Due Obedience law, in June 1987, which allowed lower-ranking officials to claim that they had been “following orders” in committing crimes. In August 2003, Nestor Kirchner signed the law that declared the Punto Final and Obediencia Debida laws null and void. Louise Mallinder, The Ongoing Quest for Truth and Justice: Enacting and Annulling Argentina's Amnesty Laws, Working Paper No. 5, “Beyond Legalism: Amnesties, Transition and Conflict Transformation” Conference, Queen's University, Belfast, 2009.
20 Stockwell, Jill, Reframing the Transitional Justice Paradigm: Women's Affective Memories in Post-Dictatorial Argentina, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, 2014.
21 Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo was founded when a group of mothers emerged among the relatives of the disappeared and began to realize that the abduction of their pregnant family members was more widespread than originally thought, and their search also extended to the fate of their missing grandchildren. The organization believes that up to 500 children who were taken from their incarcerated mothers and given to families with close military ties are still unaware of their real identities. As of June 2019, 130 children have been recovered with the assistance of Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo. For more information, see: http://abuelas.org.ar.
22 J. Stockwell, above note 20. See also Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo et al., “We Reject the Attempt to Benefit Those Convicted of Crimes against Humanity with House Arrest on the Pretext of Prison Overpopulation”, CELS, 7 March 2018, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yxseawa7.
23 Studies have shown collective memory to be the cross-generational oral transmission of events deemed socially important for a society: see Leydesdorff, Selma, Passerini, Luisa and Thompson, Paul (eds), Gender and Memory, Transaction, New Brunswick, NJ, 2005. Despite women playing a central role in the transmission of memory to the next generation, in many transitional contexts the role women play is marginalized; their memories of violence are pushed out to the margins of the public sphere. As a result, the author wished to explore further the ways in which women remember the past, especially in Argentina, where women have done the lion's share of work in terms of remembering the political and State violence of the 1970s and 1980s.
24 See above note 17.
25 Oleguer Sarsanedas and Estela Barnes de Carlotto, “The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Rewriting of History”, Open Democracy, 8 December 2017, available at: www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/grandmothers-of-plaza-de-mayo-and-rew/. This article was written before the 2019 Argentine presidential election, in which Alberto Ángel Fernández replaced the incumbent Mauricio Macri. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will become vice-president in Mr Fernández's administration.
26 See Uki Goñi, “Blaming the Victims: Dictatorship Denialism is on the Rise in Argentina”, The Guardian, 29 August 2016, available at: www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/29/argentina-denial-dirty-war-genocide-mauricio-macri.
27 Vezzetti, Hugo, Pasado y presente: Guerra, dictadura y sociedad en la Argentina, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, Buenos Aires, 2002.
28 CONADEP, above note 16, p. 6.
29 E. Crenzel, above note 16, p. 1072.
31 Crenzel, Emilio, “Argentina's National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons: Contributions to Transitional Justice”, International Journal of Transitional Justice, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2008.
32 J. Stockwell, above note 20.
33 The two different memorial groups fall into two political/ideological camps in Argentina. More broadly, individuals affected by military repression are commonly referred to as the political “left”, and individuals affected by armed guerrilla violence are referred to as the political “right”. See ibid.
34 Rothberg, Michael, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2009, p. 309.
35 Jelin, Elizabeth, State Repression and the Labors of Memory, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003.
36 J. Stockwell, above note 20.
37 Interview with Barbara Tarquini, Buenos Aires, 17 July 2009.
38 Misztal, Barbara A., “The Sacralization of Memory”, European Journal of Social Theory, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2004, p. 6.
39 J. Stockwell, above note 20.
40 Roniger, Luis and Sznajder, Mario, The Legacy of Human-Rights Violations in the Southern Cone: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999, p. 189.
41 Delbo, Charlotte, Days and Memory, Marlboro Press, Evanston, IL, 2001, p. 3.
42 Interview with Cristina Muro, Buenos Aires, 14 June 2009.
43 Caruth, Cathy (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1995, pp. 4–5.
44 Interview with Cristina Muro, above note 42.
45 Felman, Shoshana and Laub, Dori, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, Routledge, New York, 1992, p. 69.
46 Caruth, Cathy, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1996, p. 7.
48 Langer, Lawrence L., Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995, p. 15.
49 Interview with Cristina Muro, above note 42.
50 S. Felman and D. Laub, above note 45.
51 J. Stockwell, above note 20.
52 Boss terms this “ambiguous loss” and assumes that ambiguous loss can traumatize. She argues that the symptoms of unresolved grief are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): see Boss, Pauline, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999. PTSD “is a disorder resulting from psychologically stressing events that were outside the realm of usual human experience. These events were never resolved and thus are continually reexperienced, even years after the original event” (ibid., pp. 23–24). While ambiguous loss is also a psychologically distressing event that lies outside the parameters of a “normal” human experience and lacks resolution, it continues to exist in the present. “It is not post anything”, argues Boss (ibid., p. 24). See also Boss, Pauline, “Families of the Missing: Psychosocial Effects and Therapeutic Approaches”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 99, No. 905, 2017. Another psychoanalyst, Elizabeth Lira, who has written about PTSD among individuals who lived through State terror in Chile, similarly argues that the term PTSD cannot adequately capture the ongoing nature of State terror, “because there is nothing ‘post’ about it” (cited in Hollander, Nancy Caro, Uprooted Minds: Surviving the Politics of Terror in the Americas, Taylor & Francis, Hoboken, NJ, 2010, p. 122). Lira prefers to use the term “culture of fear” to emphasize that an “individual subjective experience is shared simultaneously by millions of people, with dramatic repercussions for social and political behavior” (cited in ibid., p. 122). Julia Braun suggests that while PTSD symptoms may occur among a population at large or in individual cases, in contexts that have experienced state terror, PTSD is a “repetitive trauma” whereby one trauma is layered upon another (cited in ibid., p. 122).
53 Interview with Cristina Muro, above note 42.
54 LaCapra, Dominic, “Trauma, Absence, Loss”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1999, p. 698.
55 Cited in Di Paolantonio, Mario, “Pedagogical Law and Abject Rage in Post-Trauma Society”, Cultural Values, Vol. 5, No.4, 2001, p. 463.
56 Cited in Booth, W. James, Communities of Memory: On Witness, Identity, and Justice, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2006, p. 117.
58 Interview with Cristina Muro, above note 42.
59 W. J. Booth, above note 56, p. 114.
60 Ibid., p. 115.
61 Ibid., p. 122.
62 Ibid., p. 122.
63 S. Felman and D. Laub, above note 45, p. 7.
64 Interview with Raquel Marizcurrena, Buenos Aires, 17 June 2009.
65 Gordon, Avery, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and Sociological Imagination, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2008.
66 Assmann, Jan, Religion and Cultural Memory: Ten Studies, trans. Livingstone, Rodney, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2006, p. 3.
67 Interview with Graciela Lois, Buenos Aires, 23 June 2009.
68 Rimé, Bernard and Christophe, Veronique, “How Individual Emotional Episodes Feed Collective Memory”, in Pennebaker, James, Paez, Dario and Rimé, Bernard (eds), Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, 1997, p. 133.
69 Ibid., p. 144.
70 Ibid., p. 144.
71 James Pennebaker and Becky L. Banasik, “On the Creation and Maintenance of Collective Memories: History as Social Psychology”, in J. Pennebaker, D. Paez and B. Rimé (eds), above note 68, p. 7.
72 Ahmed, Sarah, “Collective Feelings: Or, the Impressions Left by Others”, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2004.
73 Ahmed, Sarah, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2004, p. 194.
74 S. Ahmed, above note 72.
75 Interview with Barbara Tarquini, above note 37.
76 Brison, Susan, “Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self”, in Bal, Mieke, Crewe, Jonathan V. and Spitzer, Leo (eds), Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1999, p. 42.
77 Honneth, Axel, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA, 1995, p. 95.
78 Watkins, Megan, “Desiring Recognition, Accumulating Affect”, in Gregg, Melissa and Seigworth, Gregory J. (eds), The Affect Theory Reader, Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2010, p. 273.
79 S. Ahmed, above note 73.
80 Laub, Dori and Auerhahn, Nanette C.. “Failed Empathy – A Central Theme in the Survivor's Holocaust Experience”, Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1989.
81 Interview with Barbara Tarquini, above note 37.
82 S. Ahmed, above note 72.
83 Karl Mannheim was the first to problematize the concept of “generation” as a social phenomenon in 1972, when he argued that a “continuous transmission of cultural heritage” among generations exists. Mannheim, Karl, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1972.
84 Kaiser applies the term “witness generation” to refer to those who lived through and witnessed the period of political and State violence. See Kaiser, Susan, Postmemories of Terror: A New Generation Copes with the Legacy of the “Dirty War”, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005.
85 Ibid., p. 56.
86 Ibid., p. 56.
87 Ibid., p. 56.
88 Schwab, Gabriele, Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, Columbia University Press, New York, 2010.
89 Miller, Nancy K. and Tougaw, Jason D. (eds), Extremities: Trauma, Testimony, and Community, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL, 2002, pp. 71–72.
90 Faye, Esther, “Impossible Memories and the History of Trauma”, in Bennett, Jill and Kennedy, Roseanne (eds), World Memory: Personal Trajectories in Global Time, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003.
91 G. Schwab, above note 88, p. 80.
92 E. Faye, above note 90.
93 The Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) are two State-run agencies that have been established to work towards reconciliation and co-existence in Sri Lanka. The SCRM was established in 2015 and is tasked with designing and implementing Sri Lanka's reconciliation mechanisms; see: scrm.gov.lk. ONUR, a key feature of the 2015 presidential campaign, is mandated to develop policies and programmes that work towards developing long-lasting peace through addressing the underlying factors which lead to the past violence and armed conflict; see: nirmin.gov.lk.
94 Ana Pararajasingham, “The Geopolitics of Sri Lanka's Transitional Justice”, The Diplomat, 3 April 2019, available at: https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/the-geopolitics-of-sri-lankas-transitional-justice/.
95 For an analysis of the experiences and the treatment of memories of individuals who participated in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, see Grunebaum, Heidi and Henri, Yazir, “Remembering Bodies, Producing Histories: Holocaust Survivor Narrative and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Testimony”, in Bennett, Jill and Kennedy, Roseanne (eds), World Memory: Personal Trajectories in Global Time, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003.
96 Gunatilleke, Gehan, “Confronting the Complexity of Loss: Perspectives on Truth, Memory and Justice in Sri Lanka”, Law and Society Trust, Vol. 25, No. 331, 2015, p. 4.
97 In an interim report published by the Office on Missing Persons, a section outlining “Urgent Recommendations for Memorialisation” has been included to acknowledge the missing and disappeared as well as their families. Suggested ways forward include a National Day of Remembrance and the restoration and/or preservation of key sites of memory. See Office on Missing Persons, Interim Report, 2018, p. 17, para. 48, available at: http://srilankabrief.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/OMP-inteerim-report-Sep-2018.pdf.
98 Gehan Gunatilleke, “Can Memorialisation Generate Public Demand for Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka?”, Juscticeinfo.net, 9 May 2017, available at: www.justiceinfo.net/en/other/33263-can-memorialisation-generate-public-demand-for-transitional-justice-in-sri-lanka.html.
100 G. Gunatilleke, above note 96, p. 4.
101 See CTF, Final Report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, 2 vols, 17 November 2016, available at: http://war-victims-map.org/onsultation-task-force-on-reconciliation-mechanisms-final-report-volumes-i-and-ii/.
102 For an analysis of the psychosocial considerations of the CTF report, see Salih, Maleeka and Samarasinghe, Gameela, “Families of the Missing in Sri Lanka: Psychosocial Considerations in Transitional Justice Mechanisms”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 99, No. 905, 2017.
104 CTF, above note 101.
105 For further reading on the most recent violent attacks stemming from ethno-religious tensions, see Damien Kingsbury, “Sri Lanka Has a History of Conflict, but the Recent Attacks Appear Different”, The Conversation, 22 April 2019, available at: https://theconversation.com/sri-lanka-has-a-history-of-conflict-but-the-recent-attacks-appear-different-115815.
106 Hamber, Brandon and Kelly, Gráinne, “The Challenge of Reconciliation: Translating Theory into Practice”, in A Sustainable Peace? Research as a Contribution to Peace-Building in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, Belfast, 2008.
107 Satkunanathan, Ambika, “Justice in Transition? Victims, Forgiveness and Truth-Seeking in Post-War Sri Lanka”, LST Review, Vol. 25, No. 331, 2015.
108 Farzana Haniffa, Competing for Victimhood Status: Northern Muslims and the Ironies of Post-War Reconciliation, Justice and Development, Research Paper No. 13, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, July 2014.
109 Ibid., p. 24.
110 G. Gunatilleke, above note 96.
112 See Human Rights Council, Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, Annual Report, UN Doc. A/HRC/40/23, 8 February 2019, available at: http://colombogazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/G1902925.pdf.
113 G. Gunatilleke, above note 96, p. 35.
114 de Alwis, Malathi, “Disappearance and Displacement in Sri Lanka”, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2009.
115 Cristian Correa, “Sri Lanka's Wavering Commitment to Accountability for Enforced Disappearances”, International Centre for Transitional Justice, 29 August 2018, available at: www.ictj.org/news/sri-lanka's-wavering-commitment-accountability-enforced-disappearances.
116 J. Stockwell, above note 20.
117 In submissions made by families to the CTF, which was mandated to listen to Sri Lankans island-wide about their views on the design and establishment of transitional justice processes in Sri Lanka in 2016, families stressed their concerns about being re-traumatized following the constant retelling of their painful stories. The psychosocial needs of those sharing their experiences in the public sphere, argue Salih and Samarasinghe, require further attention in the design of transitional processes. See M. Salih and G. Samarasinghe, above note 102.
118 G. Gunatilleke, above note 96, p. 16.
119 Centre for Policy Alternatives, “Selective Memory: Erasure and Memorialisation in Sri Lanka's North”, 23 November 2017, available at: www.cpalanka.org/selective-memory-erasure-memorialisation-in-sri-lankas-north/.
120 M. Rothberg, above note 34.
121 J. Butler, above note 1, p. 30.
* The research for this paper is based on oral testimonies that the author collected in 2009 in Argentina as part of her PhD research. These testimonies were taken from two groups of women: those whose family members were kidnapped and murdered by armed political groups between 1973 and 1976, and those whose family members were kidnapped, disappeared or murdered by the military government between 1976 and 1983. The interviewees emphasized their preference for disclosing both their names and the identities of their missing/killed family members. For many of the families of the disappeared in particular, publicly repeating the name of their loved ones at any opportunity is highly significant to restoring their personal identity. All translations of the women's quotes are author's own. The interviews are on file with the author.
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