Persistent injustice against marginalized groups in the United States, notably Native Americans and African Americans, has its roots in systemic racism that dates back to the country’s founding. ICTJ partners with local and national advocates to help advance efforts to uncover the truth, pursue justice, acknowledge and repair harms, and reform institutions in the United States.
Background: Rising Calls for Change
Americans are increasingly demanding that society affirms the humanity of those whose rights have been systemically violated and are calling for a broader reckoning with the legacy of racial injustice, including the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans.
White supremacy has been maintained in the United States through a series of structural and legal measures such as the Indian Civilization Fund Act of 1819, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, coordinated efforts to disenfranchise Black voters in the South, “Jim Crow” laws that codified a system of racial apartheid, and discriminatory policing practices, among many others.
The truth about the country’s history of land theft, slavery, and racism and their connections to present-day injustices is well documented. However, this truth has not been fully integrated into the collective nation, nor has society or successive governments adequately acknowledged it. Previous efforts in the United States to address past wrongs have been insufficient to break the link between past violations and current structural racism.
Following a year of public outrage and protests in 2020, for the first time, racial justice is one of the top four priorities of the US executive branch. Within Congress, momentum is building in support of a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans and a Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. In June 2021, the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative was established to investigate the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools. These national level initiatives are matched by emerging efforts to seek the truth and acknowledge and repair harms in various cities and states across the country, including in Maryland, Evanston, Illinois, and California, among many others.
This momentum for change offers an opportunity to advance truth and acknowledgment and set in motion reforms and reparations programs that can unravel systemic racism in the United States. As ICTJ has seen in its work across the globe, the success of transitional justice efforts depends on windows of opportunity when there is both broad public support and political will. It is crucial to seize on this moment before institutions become more resistant to change.
Overcoming the dehumanization and injustice associated with persistent legal and socioeconomic subjugation requires a conscious and explicit effort to inform all citizens, denounce the discriminatory policies, and assume collective responsibility to redress past harms. To this end, ICTJ aims to accomplish the following objectives:
- Support local and national stakeholders in developing and implementing effective truth, justice, reparation, reconciliation, and reform processes across the United States.
- Advance transitional justice initiatives for racial justice in the United States by providing key stakeholders with relevant international experience and advice as well as a space to share experiences and find solutions to common challenges.
- Support locally led initiatives that could set a precedent for other cities and states to effectively pursue truth, reparation, and reform.
To achieve these objectives, ICTJ is currently undertaking the following activities:
- Facilitating working sessions with stakeholders in local initiatives to jointly solve problems
- Providing strategic accompaniment and direct support to local communities
- Convening interested leaders who are implementing truth and reparation initiatives across the United States to explore and develop strategies to address common challenges
- Producing guidance documents and policy briefs
- Sharing comparative lessons from ICTJ’s work around the world as well as previous work in the United States, including the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission which ICTJ supported from inception to completion
ICTJ’s work in the United States is possible thanks to dedicated funding provided by US-based private donors and foundations.