New Book from ICTJ Explores Links Between Culture and Transitional Justice

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NEW YORK, April 28, 2014 – A new book from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) explores the ways in which cultural and social factors interact with national efforts to achieve accountability and reform in the wake of human rights abuses or conflict. How can journalists influence national views on a legacy of violence? How can art be used to spark discussions on accountability? These and other questions are addressed in Transitional Justice, Culture, and Society: Beyond Outreach.

The book, published by the Social Science Research Council, examines how outreach programs, media, and cultural outputs can strengthen or undermine the potential for social transformation of initiatives such as truth commissions, war crimes trials, and reparations programs – and the public’s perception of them.

The publication builds on research undertaken by ICTJ’s Research unit that examines the outreach programs of different transitional justice measures, in order to provide practical guidance and tools for practitioners crafting public education and outreach programs.

Clara Ramírez-Barat, ICTJ’s Research Senior Associate and editor of the book, explains: “Beyond what happens inside a court chamber, reparations process, institutional reform, or testimony-gathering exercise, practitioners need to consider the way in which these actions resonate or are acknowledged at the societal level.

The book compiles in-depth case studies on how public outreach, media, and various forms of cultural interventions have interacted with transitional justice efforts in several countries, including Peru, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and the former Yugoslavia. The examples illustrate how media, film, photography, literature, and institutional programs have decisively shaped public perceptions of war crimes trials, truth commissions, and other initiatives in post-war contexts.

According to the book, one of the strongest contributions of cultural interventions is to make victims visible in societies where they have long been hidden or discounted.

“Human rights violations have consequences that ripple from victims to others, across space and time,” explains Pablo de Greiff, Director of ICTJ’s Research unit. “Therefore, the forensic and legal language practitioners often use to report on mass crimes needs to be complemented by cultural interventions that are more adept at capturing the complexity of the social and intergenerational effects of abuses.”

As was demonstrated by the critically acclaimed documentary film “The Act of Killing,” art projects can be powerful catalysts for discussions on the past and the need for social change. The film, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, brought attention to the state of impunity and denial regarding brutal human rights violations that were committed in Indonesia over forty years ago.

“Cultural projects can create a space for public mourning and the symbolic recognition of victims, and thereby foster public awareness and reflection about legacies of mass abuse” explains Ramírez-Barat.

“Our hope is that this book will help to advance these discussions and lead to better collaborations and programming in the future.”

Transitional Justice, Culture, and Society: Beyond Outreach can be purchased or downloaded for free here. It is the sixth volume in ICTJ’s “Advancing Transitional Justice Series,” a joint project by ICTJ and the Social Science Research Council.


New York: Clara Ramírez-Barat, Research Senior Associate


Phone: 917-637-3815

Photo: Desaparecidos (Disappeared), Gervasio Sánchez photography exhibition, 10th Human Rights Film Festival, San Sebastian, Spain, April 2012 (Iñigo Royo)

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