Truth, justice, and remembrance: These themes take center stage in the work of the global peace advocates committed to dealing with violent conflicts and regimes in order to pave the way toward lasting peace. From November 15 to 17, 2017, the Robert Bosch Stiftung hosted its first "Global Community Forum: Truth, Justice & Remembrance" in Berlin, bringing together 120 of these peace advocates for the first time.
How can those responsible for serious human rights violations and war crimes be held accountable? How should past violent conflicts be dealt with to keep new ones from happening? And what do justice and reconciliation mean in practical terms? These questions set the framework for the everyday work of the forum participants in conflict and post-conflict societies. The forum marked the first occasion for select experts and activists from more than 40 countries to discuss these issues at the offices of the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin. Many attendees of the event were former program participants, grant holders, and representatives of projects supported by the Foundation in the past, among them Fellows of the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (ADHA) at Columbia University and the Robert Bosch Academy.
UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff: "Too often, we simply copy institutions and processes without due regard for the subtle differences between countries."
Keynote speech by UN Special Rapporteur
The keynote speaker addressing the audience at the three-day forum was Pablo de Greiff, the United Nations’ first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. Taking stock of the current situation, he emphasized that transitional justice, the buzzword of the day, was hardly rocket science: Despite considerable obstacles and decades of criticism, many activists have promoted the issue of transitional justice and have now established it successfully in various levels of discourse, including the academic, political, and public spheres. Through consistent hard work, they have managed to make transitional justice and dealing with past injustice in post-conflict societies an inherent part of the normative and institutional demands of transitional processes following violent conflicts. Thanks to their commitment, "victims are visible in today’s peace processes."
Mr. de Greiff listed three external developments as the major challenges in the aftermath of violent conflicts: double standards in prosecuting human rights violations, the excessively narrow focus on questions of domestic and international security, and the global increase in restrictions placed on civil society – the phenomenon known as closing or shrinking space. Another common problem he called to attention was "isomorphic mimicry," namely the transfer of models from one context to another without the necessary consideration of differing local conditions. "Too often, we simply copy institutions and processes without due regard for the subtle differences between countries." His appeal to the forum participants and other international players and organizations: "We must become more creative and effective!"
Following the keynote, Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, chaired a panel discussion with Pablo de Greiff and two further renowned experts. In the discussion, Rama Mani, Head of Oxford University’s Enacting Global Transformation Initiative and founder of the Theatre of Transformation Academy, underscored the importance of individual stories and fates in dealing with a violent past.
"Recapturing the Demons of Violence"
The third expert on the panel was Stephen J. Rapp, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the U.S. State Department and Chief Prosecutor on international criminal tribunals in, among other countries, Sierra-Leone and Rwanda. His summary: "Societies can succeed in recapturing the demons of violence." But, he added, this was a task for civil society, as politicians, the military, and other perpetrators – often enough themselves the former violent offenders – would not break the silence of their own accord. Without prosecution and full investigation, Mr. Rapp declared, the past would only repeat itself and more victims could be expected.
Participants of the panel discussion (from left): Rama Mani, Head of Oxford University’s Enacting Global Transformation Initiative and founder of the Theatre of Transformation Academy, Pablo de Greiff, the United Nations’ first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, and Stephen J. Rapp, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the U.S. State Department and Chief Prosecutor on international criminal tribunals in, among other countries, Sierra-Leone and Rwanda.
On the following days, the forum participants discussed current challenges and trends in peace advocacy with international experts and exchanged best practice examples. Insights were continuously recorded and translated into successful strategies. On the third day, the event provided the space to turn (project) ideas and concerns into actual plans.
The Forum aims to build and connect a global community of peace advocates committed to establishing truth, justice, and remembrance in (post-)conflict societies. With this, the Foundation intends to support these advocates’ efforts in their home countries, and initiate an international exchange of knowledge and support among like-minded parties.