039_G17 Arena

Global_17

Arena Politics Sadly his words didn’t quite match the expectation. So far 3,000 people have died and many people are still carrying around the painful memories and deep resentment that will take considerable healing. The future of Northern Ireland’s past looks just as troubled. In mid-August 2013 there were riots in the centre of Belfast over whether or not Loyalist marchers could parade down certain streets. More than 50 police officers were injured. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland called for all parades, by both sides, to be stopped for six months. In short, it is difficult to imagine two communities further apart than Unionists and Republicans. Even at the most fundamental level, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society. Despite the Nobel Prizes and attempts at truth and reconciliation, the tribalism certainly isn’t forgotten and many wounds are still not healed. Over the years, there have been frequent calls for a similar commission to the South African example to work in Northern Ireland. A truth commission or truth and reconciliation commission is an investigative body tasked with discovering and revealing wrongdoing in the hope of resolving conflict from the past. They are, under various names, occasionally set up by states emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil war or dictatorship. Since 1973, more than 20 ‘truth commissions’ have been established around the world, with the majority (15) created between 1974 and 1994. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by President Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and is popularly considered a model of truth commissions. Dealing with past wrongs is not just a political matter, but rather a process of social reflection by which society comes to terms with its past. The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up after the defeat of apartheid and helped in the process of developing political strategies for a new South African society. Grave atrocities had been committed by the apartheid regimes and, in retaliation, considerable violence was undertaken by black groups against the whites, with everyone caught up in this cycle of violence. The commission was set up and based in Cape Town. The hearings started in 1996 and dealt with crimes committed during the apartheid era, between 1960 and 1994. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as to handle reparation and rehabilitation. Merely bringing perpetrators to court was not enough to resolve the deep social and political problems faced by the South African society. Politically motivated mural in Belfast by Loyalist group the Red Hand of Ulster The Truth and Reconciliation Commission adopted the concept of restorative justice – an attempt to restore the dignity of the people and social relationships that were destroyed by societal violence. Did it work? The commission was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy and, despite some flaws, it is generally thought to have been successful. As Thabo Mbeki said in 1997, within the ANC the cry was “to catch the bastards and hang them”. He added: “Had there been the threat of Nuremberg-style trials for members of the apartheid state security establishment, we would never have undergone a peaceful change.” The result was a compromise – what Tutu called a “third way” between national amnesia and criminal prosecutions. The new government decided that it would indeed offer amnesties for past crimes, but not the kind of blanket immunity that preceded the truth commission in Chile or followed the ones in Argentina and El Salvador. But despite limitations, the South African model spawned other commissions, with some success. At the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile, there is a world map showing all the truth and reconciliation commissions. The first stone was laid by President Michelle Bachelet, who was a victim of torture during the dictatorship of Pinochet in 2008. My journey began at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago. Each room has a unique layout. For example, the first Belfast: Northern Ireland is trying to move on from its sectarian past global f i rst quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 39 


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