No Legacy for Transitional Justice Efforts Without Education

3/20/2017

Elizabeth A. Cole

Education, as a critically important institution that is widely considered to be both formative and transformative, is something that transitional justice cannot afford to overlook. Transitional justice in its early years did not directly engage with education, but today this has changed. The field has moved from discursively recognizing the importance of education (though placing it beyond the ambit of transitional justice practice temporally and philosophically) to trying to find models for active engagement with it. Education can interact with transitional justice mechanisms in a number of ways. Its structural importance as a site of justice or injustice places it within the ranks of institutions with whose reform transitional justice is concerned (alongside security sector and judicial institutions, among others). In addition, education can be both a form and site of reparations for past harms to individuals and groups. However, this hardly exhausts the potential scope of the possible interactions between these two sectors.

This paper explores a third, quite broad area of interaction between transitional justice and education—what is known in the transitional justice field as outreach. Given the complex challenges that transitional justice faces as a politically difficult process, practitioners must be aware of the limit to which education, especially formal education, can be a collaborator in transitional justice processes. They cannot afford to understand education merely as a tool, nor should their hopes for education as a solution to many of transitional justice’s outreach challenges be unrealistically high. Education as a fi eld has a distinct normative value and a social function that places it on par with, not subordinate to, transitional justice and similar projects to promote justice and human rights. It also faces constant challenges and limitations, particularly in many of the often resource-poor contexts where transitional justice works today. Only by recognizing these limitations can transitional justice assess and share the power of education for the goals it aims to achieve.

Transitional Justice, Outreach, and Education: Practices and Experiences

In Sierra Leone, a Revolutionary Focus on Children and Tentative Engagement with the Education Sector

While different outreach practices have focused on one area of education or another, Sierra Leone presents a multidimensional approach to education in a transitional justice context in which engaging children, youth, and their advocates was neither an afterthought nor an add-on but consciously done from the planning stage on. The work revolutionary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone (TRC-SL) involved children via statement taking and hearings as well as activities that led to the creation of educational materials for children and classrooms. While the TRC-SL was not the first truth commission to examine the role of education in conflict and make recommendations for education reform (most such commissions, in fact, have done this to different degrees), it was one of the first to have a major focus on children. Th e transitional justice community inside and outside Sierra Leone recognized the large impact the conflict had had on children and planned early on to include children in the TRC-SL as witnesses and victims.

Well before the creation of the TRC-SL, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Human Rights Section of the UN Mission for Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the National Forum for Human Rights (an umbrella organization for human rights nongovernmental organizations in Sierra Leone), convened a consultative meeting of stakeholders, including both international and Sierra Leonean experts in child and human rights, transitional justice, international criminal law, social welfare, counseling, and child psychology. While the early planning for the involvement of children in general in the TRC-SL’s work and the range of stakeholders convened is innovative and admirable, it is striking that this group of experts apparently did not include anyone from Sierra Leone’s education sector nor any experts in teacher training, educational psychology, materials preparation, education in emergencies, or education development and reconstruction. Th e emphasis here was on children, their rights and welfare—but not on education as a system, institution, or set of institutions (formal and informal).

After the TRC-SL began its work, its National Vision for Sierra Leone initiative launched an equally innovative project calling for artistic contributions to its mandate to portray the kind of future Sierra Leoneans envisioned for their postconflict country in five to ten years. Th is call took the form of pamphlets, which were to be widely distributed to education institutions, and a workshop on the project that apparently included students, although the level of students and from how far outside Freetown they were to be recruited from is not clear. Even in a country as small as Sierra Leone, a transitional justice institution’s ability to reach the population broadly is a serious challenge, and the lack of infrastructure in the postwar country made the process even more difficult, which studies confirmed based on survey and interview research carried out in Sierra Leone post-TRC-SL and after the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to assess how much Sierra Leonians knew about the two institutions and how they felt they had impacted their lives.

The challenge for outreach missions of connecting with society beyond the capital and possibly other urban centers is common to all transitional justice measures. Th is difficulty shows the importance where education is concerned in trying whenever possible to work with institutions capable of impacting the entire system, such as the national and local offices of the ministries of education as well as teacher training colleges and teachers’ unions. Indeed, this characteristic is one of the potential strengths of education as a target and partner for outreach. The institution of education contains both horizontal and vertical structures, potentially giving it the means to offer sustainability, particularly in comparison, for example, to the nongovernmental sector, which is much more fragmented. Th is organizational potential of the education sector must always be weighed against its limits, which are that in a resource-poor, post-conflict country the education system does not reach all or even a majority of children, as many remain out of school. Th e TRC-SL and the Truth Commission for Liberia (TRC-L), for example, grappled with this conundrum extensively as they tried to balance the number of in-school and out-of-school children they engaged with.

Despite apparently not including experts from the formal education sector in their preliminary consultations, the TRC-SL and SCSL did include formal educational institutions and activities in their outreach work. Although the education system was not the main target, the SCSL hosted visits by school groups, as did the National Museum when artworks gathered by the National Vision project were exhibited there. Jessica Lincoln notes the effect on inhabitants of Freetown, whose impressions of the SCSL included the images of visiting groups of school children, neatly clad in their uniforms, walking in and out of the court buildings. Th e SCSL also reached schools via partnerships with local nongovernmental organizations, such as Peace Links and universities, via a project its outreach team created in partnership with the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union, the Accountability Now clubs. The TRC-SL created one of the first “child-friendly” versions of a truth commission final report for children in primary school, for which its partners were international organizations (UNICEF and UNAMSIL, which provided much of the funding) and local Sierra Leonean children’s networks, including a radio station. Th e Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) also produced children’s versions of its final report, Chega!, both in a comics edition and in video format.

However, the absence of actors from the formal education system here is puzzling. How would the child-friendly version of the final report reach children, and continue over the years to reach them, unless it was embedded in schools? Children in very poor, post-conflict countries face a serious lack of books with which to develop their reading skills. Printed materials provided to schools by transitional justice institutions could be enormously valuable resources for this reason alone.36 Certainly, given the number of children out of school in Sierra Leone, schools should not be the only vector through which to reach children, and the inclusion of other partners, including radio stations, is critical. It is curious, however, that the education system was not a partner from the beginning in the creation, dissemination, and teaching of the child-friendly report, as it was for the 2002–2004 Peruvian Truth Commission (Comision de Verdad y Reconciliation, or CVR), which was ambitious in its aims to affect the education system.

The TRC-SL also created a version of its report for secondary school students in the creative form of a graphic novel,38 and it was through this project that outreach efforts engaged the formal education system, including the Ministry of Education and teachers, in consultations and piloting. In addition, a video version of the final
report was shown around the country, including in both secondary schools and colleges. The print version of the secondary-school–level report was disseminated “as a one-off when 200 copies were distributed to secondary schools across the country, reaching about 40,000 students.”39 However, no research is cited to confirm that those copies were actually taught in the classroom or read by students. Post TRC-SL research revealed that the reports were barely known, including in the ministry itself; that they were barely being used in schools; and that the TRC’s recommendations, including that the contents of the final report be incorporated into primary, secondary, and tertiary education and regarding the need to banish corporal punishment and other authoritarian practices in Sierra Leone’s schools, were not known, much less followed.

Despite this disappointing outcome, which was essentially mirrored, unfortunately, in Peru in spite of the more deliberate process of involving the education system from the ministry on down from the beginning of the country’s CVR process, the ideas, techniques, and partnerships tried in Sierra Leone to work with and for children via the education system were important first steps in the effort to engage a critical partner institution in furthering the work of transitional justice. Outreach via education at the TRC-SL, like the CVR, focused on the creation of materials and the engagement of both students and teachers, both to elicit their opinions and to inform them of how the TRC-SL and SCSL functioned, the principles by which they worked, and their ultimate goals (accountability, transparency, and justice for victims).

Transitional Justice Experts in the Education Space

Th e ICTY’s Youth Outreach Programme offers future transitional justice processes examples of outreach activities for the education system in the form of pedagogic strategies. To a greater extent than that of the TRC-SL, the ICTY’s outreach program directly targeted schools with their activities. The tribunal employed this method because of the sensitive politics around its trials and the knowledge that, without offi cial approval, the ICTY would be unable to implement formal education programs in the countries of the former Yugoslavia (as opposed to gaining access to schools through civil society organizations, which might be the case in othercontexts).

The Youth Outreach Programme aimed to reach young people aged 16–18 and university students. The programs consisted of visits by experts from the court to secondary schools in Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina and to universities and law faculties, particularly when visits to secondary schools proved politically unfeasible. Remoteness of the ICTY from the contexts of the crimes with which it was involved, in addition to political resistance to its work, made it difficult (i.e., prohibitively expensive) to bring young people to the court. However, alternatively, sending trained experts to represent a transitional justice body to schools offers a powerful outreach approach that could be used (even when the represented institution is not located in another country) in order to deepen young people’s sense of direct connectedness to the institution and processes of justice and truth telling.

While the ostensible topic of this outreach was the work of the ICTY itself, the project was never envisaged as a simple public information exercise, “by the Tribunal about the Tribunal.” The aim was to use the ICTY’s work, the myriad of facts it has established, and the cases it has adjudicated in order to encourage youth to refl ect on the validity of entrenched opinion not only regarding the ICTY, but more importantly regarding the conflicts of the past and the views of neighboring nations/ethnicities.

The Youth Outreach Programme was confined mainly to expert visits and lectures in schools and universities; there was no attempt to create materials about the ICTY for use in the schools, to insert new areas of study into the curriculum, or to work separately with teachers—approaches that could be used to accompany and deepen the impact of the visits. Outreach officers sent to secondary schools, instead, integrated passages from works of national literature that formed a part of the schools’ curricula into their presentations. Although the ICTY presentations were carefully crafted to make use of engaging photos, graphics, and audio-visual footage to communicate how the tribunal worked and what its principles were, they utilized existing teaching materials (materials that were also likely to be familiar and appreciated as points of national pride among their audiences), rather than trying to create their own. Presentations were also balanced to show evidence that acts of violence had taken place in other communities as well as the students’ own communities, with the aim of encouraging students to grapple with the experience of being victims of violence and the possibility that their community members may have committed violence as well. ICTY outreach work in universities, again, focused on contributing to the academic subject matter the students were studying, which was of future professional interest for them, particularly international and human rights law.

The strategies and successes of the program reveal that the most engaged consumers of the expertise of the representatives of the ICTY were the students, not the teachers or local education and political authorities, many of whom were resistant to working with the tribunal or downright hostile to its work. Th is behavior points to an important consideration in outreach: Potential partners have to be carefully analyzed to decide which social groups are likely to be most open and most closed to the work of transitional justice bodies and their messages.

The Youth Outreach Programme in the former Yugoslavia was limited by funding challenges, political opposition, and the fact that the ICTY added outreach quite late in the game while dealing with a population already alienated from the tribunal due to early neglect, distance, and the legacy of the wars. Yet the initiative managed, nonetheless, to reach young people within the space of educational institutions and to present the work of the ICTY and international criminal law as neutral and critical issues relevant to people across the divided, embittered region.

Engaging with Teachers and Transforming Pedagogy

It is crucial for transitional justice experts to understand that perhaps the most neglected part of any basic school system is the teachers themselves—without whom education cannot function. Teachers are a critical social group for transitional justice bodies to reach if they are to achieve real social change. While justice measures may not carry out extensive teacher training directly, they can affect it through early consultations with: organizations that are qualified to train teachers, both in pre-service and in-service settings; ministry of education staff ; teacher training colleges; and nongovernmental organizations that so often provide both supplemental teacher training and materials. Education systems can lose many important attributes, including classrooms, school campuses, books, and equipment, and still function at least temporarily, but teachers are the critical software that enables learning—academic and social, cognitive and affective—to take place. Given that teachers’ salaries represent both fixed costs and, particularly in secondary education where increased training and specialization is required, the largest expense of an education system, it stands to reason that in resource-poor countries, funds are often short for teaching materials, pre-service teacher education and training, and in-service continuing professional development and support. Yet, not only are teachers’ abilities to grasp and feel confident teaching new materials on politically contested topics such as justice, human rights, and recent histories critically limited, but in post-conflict contexts teachers have lived through the violent events and are deeply impacted by them. Their discomfort with new realities, proposed new methods of teaching, and difficult-to-teach materials and events may well stem not only from intellectual and professional challenges but also from personal experiences and internal, ideological conflicts.

“Facing the Past, Transforming Our Future,” a program in South Africa offering professional training and support to teachers grappling with materials related to South Africa’s apartheid past in the new post-apartheid environment, was not initiated or even envisioned by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC-SA), but it offers lessons and ideas for future truth commissions and similar bodies. Institutionally, the offering is the result of a partnership between an international, US-based education nongovernmental organization, Facing History and Ourselves, and a South African nongovernmental organization, Shikaya. Together, they created a new program in 2003, drawing on its teacher professional development methodology, which includes a scope and sequence, years of experience, and a wealth of materials, tailored to the South African experience.

In the absence of a specific mandate from a transitional justice institution, the program initiated by civil society worked to deepen the processes of addressing past injustices started by the TRC-SA via an important stratum of society—teachers in South African schools—and through them, to impact many students over the professional life of each teacher. The Facing the Past program is not required for teachers, nor is its scope South Africa–wide. It is currently focused on reaching teachers in one province, the Western Cape. In assessing the successes of this program, it is important to point out that the terms of South Africa’s transition, including the discourse and commitments enshrined in the Constitution and the TRC-SA process, had important enabling functions in the launch of an educational endeavor with enough status to attract teachers in search of in-service training opportunities. Conditions in other transitional justice contexts, particularly the credibility of the transitional justice processes, may not be as friendly for the establishment of programs for teachers. The Facing the Past program focuses on history education and history teachers. Th e role that history, a humanities subject and one that had been deeply tarnished by apartheid, should play in the education system of the new South Africa was highly contested. Eventually, however, leadership under Kader Asmal, a well-known
human rights lawyer and Minister of Education from 1999 to 2004, and processes (including the 2000 Report of the Working Group on Values in Education, which Asmal convened) that were intimately connected to transitional justice in South Africa strengthened the profile of history education as a key force in deepening values critical to South Africa’s post-apartheid future: tolerance, democracy, reconciliation.

Significantly, the authors of the report mentioned teachers when they linked South Africa’s reckoning with the past to its future as a changed country: “More than any other discipline, good history put to good use taught by imaginative teachers can promote reconciliation and reciprocal respect of a meaningful kind, because it encourages a knowledge of the other, the unknown and the different.” And the report specifically cited the importance of education as the creation of a legacy for the TRC-SA, identifying “the teaching of the TRC in particular as being an important preventative measure to not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated.”However, unlike the many peace and justice-oriented education programs and policy recommendations that focus on the content of history education, the Facing the Past program focuses on pedagogy and teacher training, based on the philosophy that how the material is taught is as important as what is taught. History teachers were not included in discussions of exactly how these challenging new topics were to be taught in a new South Africa, a country very much burdened with the legacies of the old South Africa: racial segregation; different systems of education, of different quality, for different ethnic groups; and schools and their staff members
embedded in the injustices of the old system.

Facing the Past moved to fi ll a void—the lack of formal training and support programs to help teachers cope with teaching history and the larger legacy of apartheid within their schools. Facing the Past’s pedagogy is very personal and experiential, encouraging teachers to keep journals and express themselves verbally and in drawings during workshops, for example, and makes extensive use of international case studies in addition to discussions of South Africa’s own history, such as Germany’s loss of democracy during the Weimar Republic and then the Holocaust, and the US civil rights movement.

A major goal of the program is to introduce the teachers to inquiry-based methods of teaching, based on the philosophy that difficult issues in history cannot be taught without discussion and debate, and that education that relies on transmitting facts for students to memorize and repeat will not help students become more active citizens in a democracy. Facing the Past’s themes and cases help teachers and students see that arguments in favor of committing or condoning violence and injustice must be questioned and resisted and, indeed, have been successfully implemented in the past.

The scope of this program is limited, with 500 teachers having participated in the multi-day workshops over nearly 12 years. Shikaya and Facing the Past have partnered with the Ministry of Education of the Western Cape, so the program has had official endorsement. The group’s methodology is aligned with South Africa’s national history curriculum in such a way that even if teachers choose not to teach the entire Facing the Past curriculum, the methods and content can easily be imported into the required curriculum.48 In addition to the multi-day workshops, Shikaya runs larger-capacity, shorter-duration conferences for teachers from across South Africa.

Given the difficulties in affecting entire national education systems illustrated by the Sierra Leonean, Peruvian, and Balkan experiences—based on an array of challenges from political will and social opposition, to competition for tight budgets and limited classroom hours, to deeply under-resourced education systems, to ever-changing line-ups of education officials with ever-changing priorities—the decision to limit Facing the Past’s work to the Western Cape while maintaining its high quality and intensely personal focus was admirable. What the program sacrifices in scalability may well be made up for in the power of a high-quality, well-received, and popular program to influence debates on education across the country and beyond. The key for this program, as it would be for similar programs, is to ensure the sustainability of the project at its chosen (mainly province-wide) scale and to find ways to create and influence conversations about how best to address the nation’s transition in the classroom beyond the program’s immediate scope.

Creation of Materials for Teaching and Learning

Although engagement with the educational establishment, especially teachers, is a necessary precondition for ensuring that educational materials, once created, are used and used effectively, the materials can be used only if they exist. Creating materials for teaching and learning is one of the most effective outreach strategies for those aiming to disseminate and socialize the concepts of transitional justice. Materials creation may well be the area of transitional justice activity in which we have the most practice to draw on, although the impact of these materials, including whether they are being used, exactly how they are used, and how students receive them, still needs research and evaluation. The wealth of examples includes educational materials created by transitional justice institutions, mostly truth commissions themselves, as well as those created by civil society organizations and trained educators connected to the education sector, such as writers and publishers of textbooks.

Reference has already been made to the child- and youth-friendly versions of truth commission reports produced in Sierra Leone and Peru. These included teaching materials to help teachers. In Timor-Leste the truth commission developed youth-friendly versions of its report in two media: print and film. The creation of such reports targeted at young people and children was a critical innovation in transitional justice. Th e major challenge now is to find ways to ensure that the materials are used in schools and that teachers are familiar with and comfortable teaching them. Th is means that materials creation cannot be an end in itself but just one part of a broader engagement with schools, educators, and educational nongovernmental organizations. In some cases, the issue may not be the creation of new materials so much as the review of existing materials by diverse groups of educators and recommendations for any needed reforms. Europe’s experience with educational material reform and/or creation, largely via official textbook review commissions and nongovernmental organizations, offers lessons for transitional justice professionals.

Historical commissions, which predate truth commissions, have focused on historical inquiry, and while not often considered as typical transitional justice processes, they are indeed part of the same spectrum of entities serving truth telling, although usually not with the inclusion of victims’ voices. A largely European phenomenon associated with World War II controversies and often binational in nature (French-German, German-Polish, German-Czech, and so on), historical commissions have often been followed by initiatives to review textbooks for signs of biases, errors, and stereotyping. While the commissions did not themselves create materials, they focused on reforming existing materials and significantly transformed older conceptions of textbooks from tools to promote national identity to tools for peacebuilding rooted in presentations of truth combined with a pedagogy of inquiry through an internationalist/European lens. This European experience of textbook reform as a kind of diplomacy has already influenced education in the region (many of the history textbooks used in Northern Ireland, for example, have been written by mixed teams of history educators since the 1990s50) and provides important background for transitional justice experts to keep in mind when considering how to engage with the education sector, create or influence materials, and win official buy-in for their implementation.

The post–World War II creation of the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI), a unique textbook research center in Braunschweig, Germany, was an important intersecting of peace, justice, and education. GEI was involved in many of the bi- and multi-national consultations and analyses of existing textbooks and recommendations for reform in portrayals of former enemies, controversial historical events, and pedagogical approaches. Originally focused on Europe, the institute now sponsors research on teaching and learning materials worldwide and advises on textbook reform and creation.51 Th e post–World War II European textbook project, originally focused on binaries of Germany and various neighbors, is an example of the diplomatic processes needed to bring together key actors—educators, historians, textbook writers, officials—to agree on approaches to past violence, injustices, and controversial events in official texts. The role of an independent institute appears to have been critical; so were the international political developments that preceded and accompanied the educational cooperation. Th e lessons may be of limited value in contexts where political and social transformations have been weak or nonexistent, where regional development has remained subordinate to individual state identities (for example, East Asia, as compared to Western Europe), and where a degree of agreement must be achieved at the intrastate level, as opposed to the interstate level. (Note that a project to create a new Macedonian history textbook in the aftermath of civil violence in the late 1990s, and the continued lack of social cohesion there, succeeded as far as building collaboration between educators representing the main ethnic groups and producing a new, well-reviewed book that has attempted to present the Macedonian experience from the point of view of all its major groups. However, the book was never actually adopted by the ministry of education and has not been widely used. It proved to be too politically controversial.)

In addition to textbooks and materials directly drawn from truth or historical commissions, many other media and formats of materials exist to convey the basic concepts and specific experiences behind transitional justice processes. Th e experience of the ICTY (referenced above) demonstrates the appeal of using classical national literature (novels) to explain the work of war crimes tribunals and the challenges of seeking accountability for the kind of intergroup violence portrayed, for example, in the Yugoslav classic The Bridge over the Drina, but other formats can be used as well. Th ere have been no in-depth evaluations of how students receive films like the one produced by the Timor-Leste truth commission and the graphic novel form used by the TRC-SL. Such investigations would help us to understand how well such media resonate with young people. In addition, poetry, drama, films, and websites could all be used to further the goals of transitional justice. Th e production of more creative and engaging materials for young people necessitates broad collaboration by many different actors, from transitional justice experts to textbook writers, professional historians, educators in history and the arts, and, in many contexts, religious leaders and educators. Th e sheer range of actors who could be potentially engaged in transitional justice through outreach to these potential communities offers a broader audience for transitional justice than just students. Such activities also imply a broadening of the conception of transitional justice, as education becomes the potential bridge referred to earlier, between transitional justice in contexts of true transition to long-term historical justice; between transitional justice and broader social processes, such as reconciliation, or the creation of community (convivencia, cohesion) and inclusion; and between parochial and cosmopolitan conceptions of justice and history, that is, one’s own group’s historical experiences and those of other groups. Th e last is the pedagogy used by Facing History and Ourselves, which relies on comparative cases.

Engaging Students and Young People in Truth and Memory: Justice Projects Inside and Outside the Formal Education System, via Schools and Civil Society

Yet another way to further the work of transitional justice via learning projects for young people is to engage with them directly. While the ICTY’s Outreach Programme provided one way of doing that (sending transitional justice experts into schools and universities), other projects have engaged with young people by making them central actors in the work, essentially empowering them to become historians of periods of violence and injustice—for example, in a nonofficial form of truth telling that is educational in terms of both learning about history and interacting with different generations and members of “other” groups.

Badna Naaref was an “intergenerational oral history” project in Lebanon developed by an nongovernmental organization working on transitional justice themes whose main aim was to engage with young people. Th e project, which ran from 2010–2013, was a response not to a transitional justice process but rather to a stated need of young people: In the face of continuing violence, the ever-present (and currently rising) danger of renewed large-scale fighting, and the reality of thousands of people who went missing in the war without their fates being clarified, there is a thirst among young Lebanese to understand the war so that they can address its legacy of violence and divisions. In the context of Lebanon, “the absence of an overarching curriculum has paradoxically opened up a space to explore new methods of addressing the country’s history in classrooms, and especially to promote multi-perspectivity in education.”

Several small-scale projects to open up dialogue about the past, all with the assistance of external partners, have been developed in Lebanon by partnerships involving history teachers and Lebanese nongovernmental organizations. Many of these focused on teacher training, but the more ambitious Badna Naaref project that focused on students as actors grew around the idea of training students to be oral historians of the civil war, in order to help them to understand the experiences of people from different groups in Lebanese society and at the same time to create an oral history archive. Th e two main actors in what became the “Badna Naaref—We Want to Know—Project” were ICTJ and a Lebanese university. Th is was a “truth-seeking project”—“truth-seeking” for the students who would interview family members or others they knew well and “truth-telling” for the interviewed, thus a kind of decentralized, unofficial, and informal truth process. Both teachers and students from 12 different schools were selected to participate. The target ages of the original students, 15 to 16 years old, were carefully chosen. Students in this age group were felt to be less politicized than university students and also not under as much pressure as older high school students to prepare for matriculation exams. Trainers of the students in oral history techniques were also selected and trained. The project also involved the development of a website to publicize the project, archive hosting by both Lebanese partners, and venues for the students to meet one another, a significant achievement in a deeply divided society.

Ultimately, the project proved to be unsustainable, and some related components, such as a documentary fi lm based on it, were unable to get off the ground. While the project directly affected the 44 students, family members, teachers, trainers, and project organizers who were involved in it, its impact may have been larger if it had garnered media coverage. But the limits faced by the project grew directly out of the fact that it took place not as part of a transition but in the absence of official processes meant to address the past via the law, public truth telling, and commitments to reform and the transformation of social identities based on sectarian divisions.Issues related to the civil war were too sensitive for many schools and individuals to get involved in the project, and safety was a concern in a society where impunity has not been addressed and perpetrators of atrocities not only remain at large but in many cases hold high positions. Th e growing turmoil in the Middle East, and the implications for intensified violence in Lebanon, even beyond its existing state fragility and divisions, further undermined the project’s ability to achieve its goals. Finally, the project owed its existence, and its tenuous nature, to the fact that it grew out of civil society. Even without the political problems in Lebanon to contend with, the partners lacked stable sources of funding and the human resources to devote to it over time.

Significantly, the project did leave a legacy: It inspired a two-year oral history project with university students, under the leadership of a nongovernmental organization, with a focus on the issue of missing persons and interviews of the families of the missing. Also, while the organizers lacked the resources to carry out evaluations of Badna Naaref, which would have yielded much more fine-grained information on the program’s achievements, it nonetheless yields insights into “natural avenues for young people to engage with the principles underpinning transitional justice,” including types of activities and the most appealing and effective media for them to use.

In many of the cases discussed here, formal education institutions are able to act as partners or participate in projects, even when the projects cannot achieve official, system-wide integration of the programs. In others, however, the education system as a whole is either too compromised by violence and injustice to be a partner or the issues are too politically sensitive to expect enough teachers and schools to be involved to make a difference. In Côte d’Ivoire after the 2010 violence the education system was left deeply implicated in the grievances over inequities that had helped drive the violence; universities were politicized sites of violence. Côte d’Ivoire’s Commission for Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation (CDVR) and ICTJ, together with UNICEF, planned to develop a methodology to involve children and young people in its work, as had happened in Sierra Leone. However, the commission was caught up in Ivorian politics, and the planned involvement of children and outreach to education did not take place. Indeed, the announcement that the ministry of education had plans to include transitional justice as a theme in the national curriculum was a cause for concern for supporters of transitional justice, as the process has been so compromised.

Cognizant of the challenges to transitional justice processes in the Ivorian political climate, ICTJ and UNICEF developed what they called a “Plan B,” to be implemented in case official processes and institutions were unavailable for “outreach” to young people. Instead of working with the CDVR or educational institutions, ICTJ worked with the leadership of about 15 nonpartisan student groups and youth-run local nongovernmental organizations with outreach capacity to mobilize youth throughout the country. While the youth leaders focused on truth telling and “how the past could be dealt with from the perspective of children and youth, the project also involved some deviation from the usual transitional justice script, as the partners’ goals were conceived of as ‘dialogue,’ rather than justice” per se. Th us, the topics and methodologies pointed more toward the “final goals” of reconciliation and civic trust of transitional justice than the “mediate goals” of redress or accountability. ICTJ provided the requested resources and training to these leaders but defined its role in the project as “catalytic,” because leadership and the definition of the project ultimately came from the youth leaders themselves. The young Ivoirians came up with the idea of using testimonies from youth throughout the country to create their own reports in the form of radio broadcasts, which were then disseminated across the country as a vehicle for further dialogue about youth, their experience during the war, and their place in the country’s future.

Transitional justice could also engage directly much more than it currently does with university students. Working through universities and civil society groups, for example, Peru’s CVR created a program called PROVER, to involve young Peruvians in the work of the commission as volunteers, participating in taking testimonies, disseminating information about the CVR, assisting at the exhumation of mass graves, and creating and leading community forums about the CVR. After the CVR ended its work, a Peruvian civil society organization created a volunteer program for university students who wanted to contribute to the future of the country in a variety of ways. Similarly, in Sierra Leone, the SCSL’s Outreach Unit organized the Accountability Now clubs for university students to learn more about the work of the court, human rights, international law, and transitional justice, both so that they could contribute to outreach work about the court and as a source of learning among the country’s future leaders about transitional justice values. The Accountability Now clubs have been popular and exist today in Liberia as well as Sierra Leone.59 Colombia is currently creating a network of regional university-based historical memory centers to carry on the work of its Historical Memory Center as part of its peace and transitional justice processes. This will be a very important project for transitional justice professionals to observe.

Development of Extracurricular Sites of Learning

Finally, the creation of alternative sites and institutions of learning, or partnerships with them, can also function as outreach vectors from transitional justice institutions to schools. Perhaps the most prominent are museums, both in the classical sense of purpose-built institutions but also the category that in the last two decades has come to be known as “sites of conscience”—museums created around critical historical sites that involve tragedy and injustice in order to both educate and commemorate.60 Th e Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, for example, has established its identity as both a memorial to the violence that led to the founding of Bangladesh as well as a site of learning about human rights and peace. The privately funded museum was conceived and developed by civil society actors. High school students are a primary audience for the museum’s activities, which are not limited to its onsite collection of donated historical documents and artifacts but extend to activities intended to make students active participants in their own history. In much the same spirit as Badna Naaref in Lebanon, the museum has sponsored a nationwide oral history project for high school students to interview family members who lived through the violence and submit the transcripts to the museum’s
archive to encourage students to feel they are contributing to writing the country’s history.

The challenge with this kind of activity is that it can easily be drawn into other priorities, sometimes in tension with transitional justice. In the case of the Liberation War Museum, the mission appears to be both nation building as well as the historical memory of injustice and learning about international human rights. Conceptions of countering impunity, measures of redress, and building the cornerstones of a culture of human rights (namely, rule of law)—the classical themes of transitional justice—are not what the museum stresses (and given that impunity for atrocities committed during the liberation war has been a political reality in Bangladesh, the museum may be under political pressure not to address this topic). But oral history and history education as a form of truth seeking and truth telling, particularly in a context where there has been official resistance to truth telling about events connected with the liberation war, are within the museum’s mandate.

It should be noted that oral history, particularly as practiced by untrained students interviewing family members, carries its own problems for history and truth. As a kind of crowd-sourcing of national history, it would not meet a professional historian’s standards of investigation. But in contexts where there is a lack of intergenerational communication about historical events, particularly those connected to a state’s founding or transitional moments, oral history is an activity that can inspire thinking about past and present injustices and give young citizens a sense of agency. In addition, as in Lebanon, where the oral history project involved students from the country’s main confessional groups, the participation of students from all over the country may reduce the likelihood that a single narrative dominates the histories being archived for public readership.

While the Liberation War Museum currently lacks the resources to host teachers or visit schools around the country and engages directly with teachers mainly in Dhaka, it has a country-wide network of teachers and schools to whom it provides materials via manuals, DVDs, and pamphlets. Th e museum’s authority is recognized by educators. Th e co-founder and now trustee of the museum, Mofi dul Hoque, was appointed as a member of a committee of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board to recommend new ways to integrate the history of the liberation war into textbooks. The addition of a section on children’s rights was included in the National Curriculum in 2012, after the museum submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education on incorporating human rights into the curriculum.

Many other alternative sites of transitional justice learning exist as potential models of practice, including, to mention just a few: District 6 in South Africa, the site of forced removals during apartheid; Robben Island, also in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the resistance to apartheid were imprisoned; and the former secret prisons at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Argentina, the Villa Grimaldi in Chile, and Tuol Sleng Prison in Cambodia—all former sites of torture, enforced disappearance, killings, and other violence that now function as museums/educational centers and memorials in countries that have experienced transitional justice processes. These and many others, including older sites—such as former Nazi death camps; sites of rescue and resistance, such as the Amsterdam house where Anne Frank and her family were hidden; and the slave house of Gorée, from which slave ships set sail as part of the Atlantic slave trade—can carry forward the work of transitional justice, all with varying relationships to official institutions, including schools, and each with its own focus within the discourse of transitional justice.

Date published: 
3/20/2017