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Memorialization After Conflict

A Greek historian of the Hellenistic period, Polybius wrote in his work The Histories (V,11) “... the finality of war is not to punish the guilty but to re-establish law…. a noble custom forbade the erecting of stone or bronze trophies on a battlefield; only wooden trophies were allowed – so that there should be no perpetual symbol of enmity” (Fitzmaurice, 1957). From our research’s perspective, Polybius’s quote is helpfully thought-provoking in two compelling ways. Firstly, it suggests the dramatic change yet a faintly familiar approach to peacebuilding after war, its context and the purpose of post-conflict[1] memorials and reconciliation[2]. Secondly, the quote or its reinterpretation, “In ancient Greek city states, battlefields memorials were deliberately constructed of wood to enable erosion opening possibilities for reconciliation between former enemies” (Shaheed, 2014), surfaced a few years ago, giving purchase to a report addressing, “memorialization processes of events of past in post conflict and divided societies” (A/HRC/25/49), the report was commissioned by the General Assembly of the United Nations[3]. The quote was used to ‘compare and contrast’ the current complexities of contemporary post-conflict memorialization, whilst acknowledging the urgent need for a contemporary code of ethics and approach to memory after conflict. Shaheed’s final recommendation in her 2014 report[4] was, “that a compendium be prepared on good memorialization practices, highlighting difficulties encountered and results achieved.”

Our current research explores the idea that, to develop an effective approach to a ‘good contemporary memorialization practice’ it is important for the peacebuilding establishment to acknowledge the positive as well as the negative impact that local everyday aspects of traumatic memory have in sustaining any peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. In other words, the importance of an everyday sense of place, underpin by the daily routine of life, where there is a regular awareness and and many encounters with post-conflict remainders and reminders of violence, hosted by ordinary run-of-the-mill spaces and places within a community.

We are therefore exploring the peacebuilding establishment’s current approach to post-conflict memory management and reconciliation whilst mindful that there might be an important aspect of everyday memorialization which is relatively unnoticed and poorly examined.

We are initially focusing on a primary agent in this field, namely, The United Nations and its Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), however, we will also examine the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT), and other important organisations such as the International Council of Museums (ICOM), United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (the Coalition). Together these organisations make up the primary mechanism from which post-conflict memorialisation is addressed, a mechanism keen to clarify the responsibilities of countries and other stakeholders in the field of memorialisation after war, “in view of the fact” as Martine continues, “that memory, like history is never immune from political influence and debate. The rising trend of memorialization processes today makes discussing these issues both urgent and necessary” (Shaheed, 2014).

2018 UNESCO supported the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience as they presented an excellent study [5] commissioned by the World Heritage Center of UNESCO and funded by the Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Korea, entitled Interpretation of Sites of Memory. The primary target audience of the study is, “the World Heritage Committee and states party to the World Heritage Convention. It will also be of interest and use to all those involved in the identification, recognition, conservation, interpretation and presentation of Sites of Memory. This includes many different groups including international, regional, national and local heritage authorities, communities involved with specific sites (who may be local, remote or dispersed), site managers, interpreters, specialist consultants, and other special interest groups” (International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, 2018).

The study presented a list of 15 examples of good practice[1]

.........Where is 'memoralization' going now and how are the everyday aspects of post conflict memory acknowledged ? is the new 'Revive the spirit of Mosul' initiative by UNESCO authentically resonating the contemporary approaches to memoralization that was suggested in the 2018 report or has it still to evolve?

....observing the same predictable patterns and processes (that have raised a few eyebrows) whilst addressing Erbil's Citadel in Iraq, perhaps we need to put Huxley's ideas of UNESCO as “in its educational programme it can stress the ultimate need for world political unity and familiarise all people with the implications of the transfer of full sovereignty from separate nations to a world organisation. But, more generally, it can do a great deal to lay the foundations on which world political unity can later be built” (Huxley 1947, 2010) and instead amplify Sir Clement Attlee’s wise words “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defences of peace must be constructed” and by 'men' what is important to remember, it means 'everyone'..............


[1] I refer to post-conflict as a term to describe the period immediately after a conflict is over. It is important to explain that that the term ‘post-conflict’ is however, highly politicized due to the consequences that it entails for the state and the society, which is labelled post-conflict. The phase also implies that conflict has ended. However, it is important to acknowledge that even though direct violence may have reduced there are other forms of violence that still remain (Galtung, 1969). Brown, Langer and Stewart suggest, “taking a process-oriented approach means that “post-conflict” countries should be seen as lying along a transition continuum (in which they sometimes move backwards), rather than placed in more or less arbitrary boxes, of being “in conflict” or “at peace” (Brown, Langer and Stewart, 2011).

[2] I refer to reconciliation as a multilevel process that involves national-level responsibility but also requires coordination and holistic approaches to promote social reconstruction

at many levels of society. Various processes—legal, social, political, and economic (Barsalou and Baxter 2007) need to be at work if reconciliation is to be achieved. I recognise that there are some who are uncomfortable with the term ‘reconciliation’ and prefer the terms “social reconstruction” and “reclamation,” which are usually associated with an array of interventions to promote economic, political, and social progress, as well as identity transformation, with less emphasis on legal accountability and truth-telling.

[3] Farida Shaheed’s opening statement was the reiteration of the quote used by Miguel A. Marin, a member of The Secretariat of the United Nations, in his contribution to literature supporting, The Hague Academy of International Law, Recueil Des Cours, Collected Courses 1957, Volume 92 (Marin, 1957).

[4] The ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights,’ was written in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 19/6 (A/HRC/25/49).

[5] For the list and general summary please refer to appendix 2 or the website file:///C:/Users/conta/Downloads/activity-933-3.pdf

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