AUDIENCE, EFFICACY, ETHICS

Moderator:
Leigh Swigart, conference co-organizer, associate director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Brandeis University

Panelist Presentations:

The Role of International Arbitration: The Experience of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Sanji Monageng, commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Human Rites? Truth and NGO-ization in Northern Sierra Leone
Rosalind Shaw, associate professor of anthropology, Tufts University

Telling the Story of Soviet Dissidents
Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director, Amnesty International

Discussant Response:
Zolani Ngwane, assistant professor of anthropology, Haverford College

Audience Q&A


Introduction - Leigh Swigart

Leigh Swigart:

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to our final session on Telling the Story, power and responsibility in documenting human rights violations. It's my pleasure to be able to moderate this final session, entitled "Audience, Efficacy, Ethics," which is very central to this topic that we have been attacking over the last few days. Even though this is the final panel, these issues of audience, efficacy, and ethics have come up continually. There has not been a single presentation in which some sort of ethical dilemma, some sort of issue of how to reach an audience, who the audience ought to be, when documenting human rights violations works best, has not come up. In a way, this final panel will allow us to confront head-on those issues that we all seem to be collectively very interested in analyzing.

It's a great honor for us to have with us here Sanji Monageng, who is a commissioner with the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights. She's come all the way from Botswana to join us. She will be on the Brandeis campus for several days next week, addressing different classes and appearing in different fora. She'll also be speaking at Physicians for Human Rights and at Boston University. She will be addressing the question of the role of international arbitration in the experience of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Our second presenter, Rosalind Shaw, is an associate professor of anthropology at Tufts University and also a member of the planning committee of this conference. She will be speaking to us on human rights, truth, and NGO-ization in northern Sierra Leone.

Our third presenter, Joshua Rubenstein, is the Northeast Regional Director of Amenesty International USA. He has been invovled with human rights for 25 years as an activist, scholar, and journalist, with particular expertise in Soviet affairs. A Fellow of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian Studies, he has made many research trips to Moscow and other cities in Russia, and he has lectured and written widely on the Soviet human rights movement, including a series of lectures in Russian at the Mendeleev Institute in Moscow in the fall of 1990 and in the spring of 1991.

Panelist Presentations

The Role of International Arbitration: The Experience of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Sanji Monageng discussed the development of the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the guiding force behind the Commission, and the challenges the Commission has faced as a quasi-judicial body charged with the promotion and protection of human rights across the continent.

The participation of Commissioner Sanji Monageng in Telling the Story, and the conversations it engendered, has resulted in an exciting human rights project entitled Know Your Rights!

Know Your Rights! is a collaborative project of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, and the West African Research Center/Association. It aims to translate and disseminate critical information on human and peoples' rights in selected African languages, thereby making this information available to those who otherwise would not have access to it. The principal sources to be used are the legal instruments of the African Commission. Know Your Rights! was inspired by a recognition that the broader African population cannot be aware of the charters that their states have signed onto as long as these documents exist only in European languages.

For more information on the project, visit the Know Your Rights! page of the Center's site.

Visit the website of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights for more information on the Commission's work. 

Human Rites? Truth and NGO-ization in Northern Sierra Leone

Rosalind Shaw examines Sierra Leoneans' perceptions of and reactions to the externally-organized truth and reconciliation commission that was intended to bring about healing after Sierra Leone's long and bloody civil war.

My paper concerns how external and local actors create objects of intervention in situations of mass violence and their aftermath. Narrative testimonies from survivors of such violence, collected by journalists and human rights organizations, disseminated in the media and in U.N. and NGO appeals, and recorded by transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions and war crimes tribunals, have become critical to the production of intervention during and after the violence. But an exclusive focus on survivors telling their stories can paradoxically silence other forms of voice. In this paper, I examine how the primary preoccupation with narrative testimony after the war in Sierra Leone's truth and reconciliation commission and in an NGO-led follow-up project often marginalized survivors' own priorities and processes of postwar repair and recovery. 

Closing ceremony of the Moyamba District Hearings of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, June 2003.
Photo by Rosalind Shaw

For most of Sierra Leone's eleven-year civil war, which began in 1991 and officially ended in 2002, the international community turned its back. The story of what was happening in Sierra Leone, the massive displacement, the use of amputation and other forms of mutilation, the abduction and forced conscription of child combatants, the slave labor, the widespread sex and violence, was often molded by media reports that represented Sierra Leone's civil war in terms of irrationality, magic, and pre-Enlightenment barbarism. I call that genre "ju-ju journalism." Following the U.S. invasion of Somalia and the Rwandan genocide, articles such as Robert Kaplan's "The Coming Anarchy" in 1994, basically the model for ju-ju journalism, helped to buttress U.S. isolationism and international inaction. When the international community did finally intervene in force in 1999, with the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world and the arrival of hundreds of international organizations, it did so partly in response to stories about and by Sierra Leoneans. And I'm thinking here of Sorious Samura's video "Cry Free Town," and the testimonies in Corinne Dufka's human rights watch report about the RUF/AFRC and the 1999 invasion of Freetown. 

Stories have saved lives in Sierra Leone. But by the time the war was officially over in 2002, the situation was different. Many communities developed their own techniques for re-integrating ex-combatants, and most survivors of the war, an overwhelming majority according to my research in northern Sierra Leone, didn't want to talk about the violence any more. They had a great deal to say, on the other hand, about their priorities for repairing their lives. But for many international and even local initiatives for postwar reconstruction, survivor stories were often the only forms of voice that counted. Practitioners and scholars alike tend to equate stories with voice, empowerment, catharsis and nation building. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), it was assumed that narrative testimonies, written as statements or given orally in the commission's hearings, would restore voice, establish accountability, foster reconciliation, prevent a recurrence of violence, address victims' needs, and help rebuild Sierra Leone. I'm going to give three excerpts from conversations in different contexts in northern Sierra Leone that illuminate how an exclusive concern with narrative in the TRC silenced the expression of other forms of voice. 

Conversation one:

In 2003, the third year of my research project on practices of social repair and re-integration in postwar Sierra Leone, I was conducting research on the TRC district hearings. I wanted to pay attention not just to what was going on in the front of the hall, but also to what people were saying when they hung around outside without going in. I also wanted to find out what people thought in places where the hearings were not held, and where the TRC was present mainly in radio broadcasts. In Lunsar, a northern town that had previously undergone occupation by the IUF, two young men run up to my vehicle. They'd heard that I was asking people about the TRC and the issues facing youth. And they told me that they wanted me to hear their views and those of their friends. They led my research assistant and I off to a palm wine bar on the side of the road, where fifteen men sat on wooden benches under the shade of trees behind the palm wine seller's house. They ranged from young to middle-aged. Several had had some secondary education and most had no formal employment. They launched into a debate over the TRC and continued that debate over the next two days, and I returned for our annual seminar. I'm going to read some excerpts from these discussions that relate to the issue of testifying, telling one's story before the commission. And I'll do this to represent different peoples' voices

"The TRC is too public."

"When they want to dig about the past, the TRC is digging up problems. It will being problems."

"I support the TRC, even though it comes too early. We will know exactly what caused this war. Plenty of things happened. The TRC comes out with secrets so that history will not repeat again."

"These things repeat if you talk about them too much."

"We don't want the TRC because the TRC is only word of mouth, but if you will give me what I've lost, then the TRC will hold water. How will I go and talk on the radio about what they've done to me when I get no benefit from it? I get shame. I don't want to let people know what they've done to me."

"We all decided not to talk to them. The President talked to us, forgive and forget. Then they said to come and take statements, but no benefit. We discussed this before they came, we decided to avoid them."

"If Mr. A talks about Mr. B's evil deeds, Mr. B can take revenge."

I asked whether they agreed with the TRC's argument that telling their story would bring "kol at," which is Creo for "reconciliation." I asked, "The TRC says that no sooner do you tell your story and blow your mind than you feel relief. What do you think?"

"I will get a free mind, but not kol at if I don't get assistance."

"If you can make your living you will feel better."

"If the TRC comes to mend my leg, talking by itself isn't going to help."

I asked them, "Do you know why the TRC came?"

"The TRC came to mock me. They [the rebels] have taken all I've got. The TRC says if anyone has anything to say, come and talk, but if I don't get benefit, I won't talk."

"For my part I'm leaving it alone, I'm not going to talk. The TRC should have come with more counseling than talking. I don't talk publicly. How can they get truth from that statement? In public, you don't talk about everything. But counseling is face to face, no witnesses there. It is a secret. In the TRC, public address is a problem. Thousands of people will see you, they put you on the radio, it's not good. They open you up to a lot of things. The RUF can come and kill you, can loot you."

"When you talk about what happened, you feel worse, not better."

There's enough in these comments for at least an hour of unpacking, but I just want to flag four points.

First: security. People know that neither the government nor the international community will protect them from potential retaliation from perpetrators if they testify before the TRC. Large numbers of ex-combatants, including those who committed horrific violations, have been incorporated into the army. A future military coup is entirely possible. People told me, "It's better to suffer once than to suffer twice."

Second: healing. Healing depends on the capacity to first of all, rebuild, and second, to forget. Healing is popularly equated with forgetting. The past can return if we re-tell it. Going back out to Alison's point about re-traumatization during testimony. The TRC often attacked this widespread understanding of healing as forgetting, instead of adapting it and building on it, which would have been relatively easy to do.

Third: many people, especially those who went through the process of testifying before the TRC, those who were educated young people, those who were active in churches, did in fact internalize the TRC's message that telling your story to the commission would help you to heal and to rebuild the country.

Fourth: most people, including those who'd internalized the TRC's message that telling their story would bring healing, viewed the telling of narrative testimony as part of a reciprocal relationship rather than an end in itself. Almost everyone who testified in the district hearings I attended ended their testimonies with pleas for the material assistance that would help them rebuild their lives. "Why would I testify if I don't get benefit?"

Conversation two:

In 2004, I returned to northern Sierra Leone for my fourth visit, to trace some of the men and women who had testified at the TRC's Bombali district hearings in Makeni a year earlier, including those who were amputees and other war wounded. By then, many of the war wounded had been provided with houses in special settlements, usually off a road two or three miles outside a major town or city. In the three settlements outside Makeni, war-wounded residents were pleased with the houses themselves as structures, but found it very difficult to earn a livelihood so far out of town, especially as their mobility was often limited and they were far from the networks of social support in their home communities. Adama was a middle-aged woman who lived in Makama, an amputee settlement of fourteen identical cement houses built in two neat rows off the main highway. During the war, the ex-AFRC junta amputated both her husband's hands. He died from his wounds. They amputated Adama's left hand and she lived. She was raising three children and making a garden behind her house, growing cassava and corn and processing palm oil to sell. During one of my visits, I asked her about testifying before the TRC.

Rosalind: When you talked to the TRC, how did you feel?

Adama: When I was talking I felt bad, but when I finished talking I didn't feel bad any more because everyone knew what had happened to me.

Rosalind: What did you think would happen after you talked?

Adama: I expected that when I talked, people would know my problems, and that I would sit in my house and see people coming to help me.

Rosalind: Has this happened?

Adama: No. The TRC told the government to help us, but up to now there's no help.

Rosalind: Has the TRC helped you get a cool heart? [This was one of the claims of the TRC jingle.]

Adama: I got a cool heart, but only a little, because from what they put on paper to pass on to the government [the TRC report], I haven't seen any result. If I get help, I'll forget about the war. But if you don't have help, you remember the war all the time. Now I remember because no one helps me.

Rosalind: What happened to the paper carried to the government?

Adama: Right now we're taking care of ourselves.

The people whom Adama expected to see after she told her story to everyone were NGO and government people. The Adama narrative testimony should be part of a reciprocal relationship, kind of a moral relationship. Telling her story was not just truth telling for its own sake; by participating in this national and international forum, she felt that she'd become part of a circuit connecting her to the national and international resources that would help her heal and forget.

Conversation three:

In 2004, UNDP launched a reconciliation project as an attempt to redress the TRC's perceived neglect of reconciliation processes. In the words of one person associated with this project, there was a lot of truth and a lot of commission, but not much reconciliation. The UNDP project was well conceptualized as a locally driven project, directed by religious leaders who had been active in reconciliation initiatives throughout the war. UNDP partnered with the inter-religious council of Sierra Leone and provided funds for single reconciliation events. The funds were just under a hundred dollars each, or two hundred and fifty thousand Leones, to be determined by local communities themselves. In practice, little outreach was possible because of transport and logistical constraints. And young men who sought an entry into NGOs – I could call them human rights entrepreneurs – often ended up determining the form of those events. In Bombali district, several of those events consisted of hearings in which survivors were directed to come and tell their stories once again in the central meeting place. I followed up on those events and their outcomes during my 2004 visit, with the approval of the inter-religious council. I've only got time to talk about one such event and one victim, whose murder the event addressed. This took place in a small town called Puntun, where one man, Yaya Conteh, had been killed and another man stabbed very seriously in an RUF attack in 1998. Since that time, Yaya's family has not had the money to perform the funeral ceremony that should ideally be held forty days after burial, which includes a large sacrifice and marks the proper transition of the deceased into the other world. The program, titled "Reconciliation through Public Hearing," was initiated by a young son of the town called Gibril, who now lives in the regional capital Makeni and was the brother-in-law of both victims. I'll begin my conversation with Yaya Conteh's brother Alfa, who had not been present at the program. He'd been away during Gibril's initial planning visit, and during the event itself.

Rosalind: Did anyone tell you about the program?

Yaya: No. Khadiatu [Yaya's widow] told me afterwards that people had come. She said they had asked her how Yaya died.

Rosalind: If you had been asked to choose to make One Word in this town ["One Word" is another word for "reconciliation"], what would you have wanted?

Yaya: How to make one word in the town? What do you do when someone dies? Bury him and pull a sacrifice.

In the meantime, a group of people including Yaya's widow's sister Isatu had joined us on Alfa's veranda.

Rosalind: What would you choose to bring one word in this town?

Isatu: The sacrifice, because when we pull the sacrifice, we pray for him. Sometime where he is, God will feel sorry for him. If he is comfortable or if he has problems, we don't know.

Gboli (a sub-chief in town): We have nothing to do except bear it.

Puntun was the home of the Section Chief, Pa Alimami Fofana.

Rosalind: Did Gibril tell you about the program – before the program?

Pa Alimami: He told me one week before the program to inform all the section. That program will be coming to us to know if we had any problems during the rebel conflict.

Rosalind: Did he ask you what kind of program you would like?

Pa Alimami: No.

Rosalind: If you could have had the program you wanted, and the money to do it, to bring kol at and One Word, what would you have chosen?

Pa Alimami: With that money, I can call all the family [of Yaya] to bring food. They can cook and all eat together (in the sacrifice). If any money is left, we would give it to Yaya's family.

Rosalind: If you had had that choice, would you have chosen the sacrifice or the hearings?

Pa Alimami: The sacrifice, because of the death. To pray for the one who has gone to the land of the dead.

Rosalind: If you don't pull the sacrifice, what happens to the ones left behind?

Pa Alimami: That is why we pull the sacrifice. To help the one that died be happy. This will help the ones who are left.

My point here is not to blame people like Gibril, but to look at what overrode the original conception of UNDP's reconciliation project as locally-driven. Here is a war-torn country with a high level of poverty, and a process of rapid U.N.-ization and NGO-ization. International organizations become the source of the most attractive jobs, divert the most skilled national staff, inflate local wages, and create a two-tier system of expatriates and local workers, with "trickle-down" from the top to the lower tier. In this context, the language of transitional justice became a highly marketable and rapidly expanding form of knowledge that many educated young people sought to convert into both employment and positions of leadership, often creating new forms of exclusion. Both the model of reconciliation as deriving exclusively from narrative testimony and the act of telling narrative testimony itself needs to be situated in this political economy of post-war reconstruction. The equation of stories with voice masks this political economy and the power relations that derive from it.

Telling the Story of Soviet Dissidents

Joshua Rubenstein recounts some of the research he conducted for his book Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, which sheds light on the complexities surrounding the Russian writer and journalist. The book was published after 13 years of research and writing, including two months examining newly available material in Russian archives and libraries. He also conducted personal interviews with more than one hundred people who knew Ehrenburg, locating them in Russia, England, France, Spain, Israel, and the United States.

 When I first began researching Ilya Ehrenberg, I knew only that he was considered to be Stalin's favorite journalist and was assumed to have betrayed his fellow Jews and other writers during the purges of the Stalin period. As I conducted my research, numerous dissidents would tell me how Ehrenberg had inspired them, helped prepare the ground for the soviet human rights movement. That seemed to contradict the myth that had surrounded his career in the west. I spent 13 years on the book, I interviewed a hundred people who knew Ehrenberg. I was in the archives both in Washington and in Moscow. It turns out we're dealing with a person who, in the course of a lifetime, had been a member of the Communist Party, quit the Bolsheviks, was an anarchist by temperament, was a poet and a Bohemian in Paris, and then became a kind of emissary for the regime in the west. This was, of course, held against him. So how was it possible to live a life where you can be both an anarchist and a Bohemian and a favorite of the Soviet regime, and someone who prepares the ground for the human rights movement? All of this challenges our assumptions about what it means to be an accomplice, to resist and to survive.

Ilya Ehrenburg

In the west, these categories mean one thing; in Eastern Europe, in these very grave dictatorships, they mean something else entirely. For example, people would say to me, "Why didn't Ehrenberg protest when his fellow writers were arrested and disappeared? Why didn't Ehrenberg protest when his childhood friend and high school buddy Nikolai Bukharin –one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, a member of the first Politburo – was Stalin's primary victim during the purges in the 1930s? Ehrenberg was sent to the trial on Stalin's personal orders. Ehrenberg knew he was innocent. Why didn't he protest?" It's very simple; it was a choice of life or death. He could have protested, he could have held a placard up for two seconds in Red Square, and been spirited away, and no one would have heard and he would have died. He made a decision that he needed to live with clenched teeth. But to live with clenched teeth means you then become vulnerable to all the rumors that surround someone who survives in that kind of atmosphere.

In the late '60s – and now the Soviet period moves from the carnivorous phase to the vegetarian phase – Andrei Amalrik was a leading dissident in Moscow. Many of his fellow dissidents were being arrested, and there were actually western journalists reporting that "maybe Amalrik is an informer, and that's why he's not under arrest." And Amalrik publicly responded to that accusation by saying, "Rather than wonder why I'm not arrested, and coming up with these ideas that maybe I'm an informer and I'm morally compromised, they should be celebrating the fact that, at least for now, there's one more free man in Moscow." Of course, his number came up, and he was arrested and sent into exile. One of the primary allegations against Ehrenburg that circulated during the Cold War was that it was said that he was the only member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to have survived, while the others were rounded up, secretly tried, and secretly executed. There were people who came forward and said, "Yes, I saw those defendants in labor camp, and they told me that Ehrenburg came to the trial and testified against them." Another man came forward and said Ehrenburg was taken to the trial by a limousine from his apartment in central Moscow, gave testimony, and returned by limousine.

All of this was a myth or a deliberate lie, because in the late '80s under Gorbachev, the transcript of this secret trial, held in the confines of the Lubyanka Prison, was released. So we learned that there weren't 25 defendants, there were only 15 defendants. They weren't all Yiddish writers, only five were Yiddish writers. And the main defendant was a leading member of the Communist Party. But the mythology in the West was such that we had to regard the trial and this episode as one totally directed against Yiddish culture. It would compromise our assumptions about Soviet life and repression if we knew that one of the main defendants, in fact the person most held responsible for the work and the misuse of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was Solomon Lozovsky, who was a long-time member of the Communist Party and had met Lenin and Stalin in 1905. That kind of contradicted the image of the martyrs that we were supposed to have around the history of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Secondly, there were no witnesses against them outside of members of the committee themselves, because the defendants testified and were cross-examined by the other defendants. Ehrenberg never appeared at the trial; it was held in secret, he knew nothing about their fate. And yet, because of the Cold War, it was acceptable for people in the West to circulate these kinds of rumors and there was no way to hold them accountable. So, to try to tell the real story, to get the documents, to go and talk to family members who, although they were not personally at the trial themselves still knew a great deal about what happened during the war and Ehrenberg's role, was very important. Especially dealing with these kind of dictatorships where access to documents is very difficult, and you often have to wait until there's a change in regime before you get closer to the truth.

Now, how do these kinds of assumptions affect our understanding of the Soviet human rights movement? It was 40 years ago – in fact, forty years ago this September, in 1965, when two Soviet writers were arrested, Andrei Sinyavski and Yuri Daniel. Their arrests led to the first public protest during the Brezhnev period in the defense of human rights, and eventually the emergence of emblematic figures: Andrei Sakharov, who had designed the Soviet hydrogen bomb and became a leading dissident figure; the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Yuri Orlov, a physicist who founded the Moscow-Helsinki watch group; and Anatoli Sharansky, who today is a leading political figure in Israel. How is it possible for the Soviet human rights movement to emerge? And how, in the post-Stalin period but still during the Cold War, were the assumptions of the Cold War affecting our understanding of the movement? Well, in very concrete ways. The assumption in the West was always that if they were opponents of the Soviet regime or critics of the regime, that meant they all shared our values. We tend to paint anyone critical of the Soviet government as basically a reflection of ourselves. And it didn't occur to people that in a country like the Soviet Union, where you have well over a hundred different nationalities and ethnic groups, different religious groups, people entering the dissident movement who are workers, others were scientists, some from remote areas of the country, many from Moscow or Leningrad, that in fact they would see all of these problems in a very different way. And secondly, if they were willing to stand up to a regime like this, then perhaps there might be something, say, idiosyncratic about them. The fact that you're willing to put yourself at that kind of risk doesn't mean that it deserves a psychiatric evaluation, but that there might be something a little quirky, a little quixotic – a little willingness, even, to be a martyr. Could that be at play here? Because it was almost certain that you would at least be harassed, kicked out of your job, if not arrested. Keep in mind, Stalin had only died in 1953. Amalrik commented that the regime was still in power in part as a dividend from the weight of terror that Stalin had inflicted on the society. And who is to say that that kind of terror would not return? So for people to be willing to demonstrate and circulate petitions, to write articles, to challenge the regime publicly, took an enormous amount of courage, and one might, I think, fairly say a certain degree of quixotic posturing.

So when I began interviewing people and reading the documents and reading some of these authors' self-published literature, it became clear that in fact these people did not agree with each other. There was a famous incident when one dissident figure was leaving to go to Israel in the 1970s, and at the going-away party, they actually put up signs in the apartment for the different groups to congregate. So the Baptists would be in this corner, and the Ukrainian nationalists would be in this corner, and the scientists would be in this corner, and the Jewish refusniks would be in this corner. And some of them talked to each other and some of them had very little to say to each other. They were all part of a broad movement of dissent within the country, but they all had very different goals in terms of wanting to leave the country, looking for legal reform, wishing to stay in the country, looking for a greater national autonomy for their own groups, like Ukrainians or Lithuanians, and those who were the central figures in the human rights movement saw their role as to protect everyone.

Today, Sharansky is remembered as a Jewish figure. In fact, on the eve of his arrest, he was giving all of his time to the broader human rights movement, so that when he was arrested, Jewish organizations in the West, especially those connected to the Israeli government, were very reluctant to come to his defense. They had a general policy of only defending those who were Jewish activists looking to be involved in the Jewish national struggle, which was the immigration movement. And Sharansky was spending all of his time with dissidents, many of whom were not Jewish and were not interested in working to leave the country, but rather were working for internal reform. And this was initially held against Sharansky by some Jewish groups, who of course like to forget this now because he's become such an iconic figure. That part of history has been neglected. But this was also a very important part of my research, to document both how these groups disagreed with each other and some of the personalities involved and the conflicts between these personalities – like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, who had tremendous respect for each other and got to know each other personally in the 60s and 70s, but at the same time understood that they were approaching the problems of their society from completely different directions and saw completely different solutions to those problems. Sakharov was a voice of Western liberalism, for European multi-democracy, multi-party democracy; Solzhenitsyn was really coming out of a 19th-century Slavophile tradition of deep suspicion for democracy. Many of the critics of the Czar were critics not from the point of view of democratic reform but of some mythology about Russian nationalism, and Solzhenitsyn was echoing some of that today. Russian Slavophiles in the 19th century also had a deep suspicion of capitalism, and they didn't want to see capitalism flourish in Russia and the Russian empire, because they took Dickens' description of capitalism in England very seriously, something we in the West of course have tended to forget.

My concluding remarks in looking at these three episodes are: first, there's a great deal of overlap between our understanding of the Soviet Union and our misunderstanding of the Soviet Union during the Stalin period, and our misunderstandings of the country and its culture during the post-Stalin period as well. We've allowed the myths of the Cold War to affect our judgment and how people behave in these very extreme situations. When it came to Ehrenburg, there were four great cultural survivors of the Soviet period: Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Dmitri Shostakovich and Ilya Ehrenburg. Only Ehrenburg's moral stature was ever in question, in part because it was assumed that he didn't face repression, he wasn't arrested, he was allowed to travel, he did have a tremendous number of privileges. But when you go and you speak to people, to many victims, he was the first person they came to for help. If they had believed that he had blood on his hands, is it likely they would have approached him? That kind of theme runs through the work I was doing, and we tried to reach a more subtle and deeper understanding of what it meant to survive – not just physically to survive, but to morally survive in those kinds of extreme situations.

Discussant Responses

Zolani Ngwane

I think that the best place to start for me would be to say that if at the end of this panel, you are still at a loss about audience, efficacy, and ethics, then you understood the panel very well. For me, it is a panel that highlighted most importantly the question of ambiguity, of ambivalence, of the ways in which what we are searching for is not standing out there waiting for us to discover it. And, the ways in which we are as implicated in the construction of the problem as we are indeed in the search for solution. So, as a way to frame my shortsighted understanding of the panel, I want to use that figure of Ehrenberg as a kind of heuristic device to ask some questions, because for me this is a figure that indeed forces us to look deeper at the whole question of implication. What does it mean to occupy that position? Is it in fact not the position which is, in the final analysis, occupied by all interpreters? Are we interpreters or are we not? That's the question that's going to go into some of the things that we need to be aware of as we think about ourselves in relationship to documenting a human rights abuse. I imagine Ehrenberg, in the way in which Josh talked about today, as a figure that collapses those two notions of interpreter and translator into one. In our world, there are those people that exist at the interstices of self-constituting big narrative. And those people who occupied that ethically compromised, ethically implicated space became, in that sense, not only translators but also interpreters of survival for people around them. Those are indeed the voices that somehow become lost.

We are here basically to look at the way of understanding the world, which has come down with the notion of narrative. There is this notion of a narrative as being a story plus its telling; experience is a sort of raw data, the encounter between the world and the senses, which has to await the intervention of reason to transform it into knowledge. Another way of looking at it, which I think Rosalind was touching upon, is the sense of narrative as the core incidents of body and voice. This is where the question of testimony carries this ideological burden for us – for our imagination, to a large extent. The presence of the suffering person, the presence of the violated body at the same place and time of its voice, of its testimony, is that which then burdens our tools of representation. Our photographs, our films, our notepads as it were, are overburdened by that question.

What is lost, then, by our conception of human rights as the embodiment of voice, as the coincidence of body and voice? That's one of the questions that have been coming up through the day, and one that poses important ethical questions for the ways in which we document human rights all over the world. That, to me, is sort of a way to sum up the ways in which we have to look at ourselves as somehow implicated. Our challenge is to be more critically conscious of this form of implicatedness and how it limits our ability to represent what's happening, as well as sharpening our ways of understanding the world around us.

There are two things that came up again that tie Rosalind's presentation and Sanji's. One is the notion of institutions – local institutions in the form of internal truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs), and interstate institutions such as the African Commission – and how both of those seem to hinge around a certain notion of intervention. There is this intervention into the narrative space of individuals, within a nation-state, and there is this intervention into the boundaries of a state by this trans-state body of African commissioners, with all those in-built constraints – for instance, you have to apply for passports and permits to get into a country to investigate it. On the other hand, you have to have all kinds of rituals within the country to hold a TRC. To what extent are these kinds of institutions merely states performing to themselves? Who is the audience for a TRC? In terms of South Africa, how could South Africa ever imagine itself except as narrated by the TRC in its acceptance by the rest of the world? The TRC in South Africa never really looked at the possible conditions for the tellability of the stories that emerged from it. If you were to really watch it, watch all of the testimonies, you would see the ways in which it's signaled at the very limits of language when it comes to issues of human rights. The sheer absence of narrative on the part of many victims, who collapsed into tears, are extremely inarticulate on the one hand. On the other hand, you had the perpetrators who often were whispering in the ears of their lawyers around them, flanking them; they had so much narrative it wasn't funny. That is why, as Rosalind was pointing out, when people would talk about the TRCs, they'd always emphasize the reparations that never came. The things that would have ensured the material conditions for their going on, or starting afresh, that never ever really happened. Perhaps the question is, are these good places to look for local voices about the possibilities of the future? Or should we go beyond the TRC as self-constituted, to the other places?

The other thing that really impressed me today was the presentation by Aduei, on the power of naming. A lot of people have already responded to that and very helpfully reflected on this notion of ambiguity. The Lost Boys became this kind of frame that on the one hand became helpful in raising consciousness in the United States while at the same time petrifying a history of a people who were evolving over time, and kept them in the same space. The corresponding concept in South Africa is that of the Lost Generation, which usually meant young people of the 1980s who did not go to school, were throwing stones all the time, and became politicized and could not imagine the possibility of their own futures. That goes to the question of how society becomes so self-cannibalizing, and how this self-cannibalization becomes generationally inflected and gender-inflected. Those young boys who become child soldiers themselves, if you look at the history of their perpetration of violence, are themselves products of other forms of abuse. It was the same kinds of things in the Lost Generation in South Africa. Except, of course, they grew. But today that same concept remains in place, and it's being used by the government to label a new group of young people "victims of HIV," as a way of the government excusing its own implication in their production. They still are the Lost Generation of the 80s. There is no particular history to their loss. That's the danger of these kinds of catch phrases. When you talk about human rights, you are talking about paying attention to the historicity of narratives, to the historicity of these kinds of framing devices themselves. That's part of documenting human rights. But those are also part of the ways in which we become implicated in petrifying peoples' histories. That also carried through in Deirdre's own testimony. In a way, she represents this kind of implicatedness I'm talking about. She has to "interpret" her clients' answers, and say, "Well, your honor, my client really means this," in a sense. It is that compromised position in which one has one foot in one regime and another foot in another regime that produces our documentations of human right abuses. I really like the image that came out of that, emphasizing the compromised notion of documenting human rights. Not because I don't think we're heroes, but because I think that our heroes in our imaginations are usually located elsewhere than in the places we find ourselves, more often than not.

All of those presentations really talked to the problem of imagining a story that remains true to an original experience. That's usually the problem we have; we want to bring people to a TRC because we want to have a narrative that will remain true to what actually happened. But not the kind of story that gets told in response to every new set of circumstances.

In the movie, you saw Lori there with a notebook in one hand, driving through this landscape and imagining that if you just clipped off the few trees that remained then she would be on the moon. What does it mean to be on the moon, really? Perhaps for her, it means to be in this desolate, uninhabitable place, where for someone else it would mean to be away from trouble. And for someone else, it probably would mean to be closer to God. Again, every form of intervention brings with it and imposes a certain universe of imagination, a fantasy that often has to engage with other locally existing fantasies. But we're never able to look at that intersection; we are carried into someone else's story through the fantasies and imaginations of someone else. That is the challenge.

Questions, Comments, and Responses

Corinne Dufka: The Sierra Leonean Truth and Reconciliation Commission was inherently different from that in South Africa, Chile, El Salvador, and in other places. In those places, you had death squads. You had people who were committing violations in secret. The efficacy of the TRC in those places was unmasking, unearthing truths that were hidden. In Sierra Leone, the commission of abuses by the RUF, the AFRC, and the government was particularly designed to terrorize the population as a means of control. Therefore, the TRC in Sierra Leone should have indeed been tasked with unmasking what it was that gave rise to the war in Sierra Leone, unmasking some of the issues that I talked about earlier – the poverty, the inequitable distribution of resources, the betrayal of the people that they were to be serving – to be looking at those issues which I like to think of as the blind spots within the consciousness of the Sierra Leonean people. What they least needed was for the TRC to become a forum for victims. I think, unfortunately, that the commission to a certain extent lacked a little bit of vision.

What I heard in a number of the voices, Rosalind, was that in Sierra Leone, reconciliation was undermined by fear. When people said, "We really must forgive the rebels," what was really behind it was blackmail because they were afraid that if they didn't do that, the rebels were going to come again and kill them and perhaps perpetrate other abuses. So, sometimes, I think an outside voice is needed. Sometimes I think the most poignant and observant articles about American culture, about my own culture, come from people who are British and French and who have come from outside my own culture to be able to make more critical and accurate and visionary observations about us. Similarly, I think in Sierra Leone, there are blind spots in that culture. Often, when the Sierra Leoneans talked about war, it was as though it were a natural disaster, instead of saying, "This is us. This is something about us."

Rosalind Shaw: I completely agree with your first points. Given that there really was very little popular support to bring the TRC to Sierra Leone in the first place, I think that could be the first thing that people could look at. Do people actually want the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or do they want prosecutions? It seemed to me that, although Sierra Leoneans were also very ambivalent about prosecutions for security reasons, that was something that made sense to them, more than the TRC. In Afghanistan, they actually went to the amazing measure of asking people what form of transitional justice they wanted. People said, "Prosecutions." Only 5 percent wanted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – although Karzai, who had blood on his hands too, wants to make sure they get a Truth and Reconciliation Commission instead.

In Sierra Leone, people stayed away in droves. And clearly it was very problematic as to why people did testify, and it raises issues of coercion. However much they were told, "No, there's no money, we won't pay you," here was a TRC with its Toyota Land Cruisers. People must have thought, "Of course they're going to give me something." But, given that the report was actually written largely on the basis of the statements, rather than the public hearings, we may think of some other mechanism to investigate the causes of the war, other than a Truth and Reconciliation Commission broadcast on the radio. 

Regarding your second point about reconciliation: Since I've looked at Sierra Leone historically, I think that the emphasis on forgiving and forgetting in Sierra Leone right now is actually a function of centuries of insecurity. If you have warfare, if you have raiding, if you have constantly shifting alliances, all of this driven by slave trade, by the colonial legitimate trade, then you're going to have a lot of situations in which you have former fighters incorporated into your community, often those who used to be your enemies. Are you going to speak truth to power in that instance? No. You're going to want to begin again with a clean slate. So, paradoxically, a culture of insecurity has promoted a culture of reconciliation. I think it's much more than just reconciliation as a form of blackmail. That did exist. There were certainly people who, as I stated, said it's better to suffer once than to suffer twice. Let's forgive and forget. But there were also communities who developed their own forms of reintegration and their own forms of coexistence, who incorporated their own youth, who had committed violations against them. And the statement-taking and the hearings coming to town were profoundly disruptive of these previous arrangements. For that reason, too, people stayed away from the hearings. So, we shouldn't just read silence as a product of silencing. There are many diverse reasons why people are silent. 

Stephan Edwards, Ph.D. student in Anthropology, Brandeis University: I just have two questions. One is one for Mr. Rubenstein. You mentioned, at one point, the cultural figures in the Stalinist era who managed to survive the purges and all the rest of the violence. You mentioned three or four people, and Ehrenburg was one of them. It seemed to me that the individuals you mentioned had a sort of a musical or a literary reason for being kept around, a cultural sort of significance for the Soviet regime. I was wondering if you came across in your research any reasons why Stalin and the successive regimes kept him around. It seemed like Ehrenburg walked a really thin line in terms of his existence.

Josh Rubenstein: I appreciate the question. I also appreciate Zolani's comments on what I shared with you. It's a complicated story, and what I presented earlier was the barest detail, really. Ehrenburg was well known in the West, and this may have had some constraining influence on Stalin. There are all kinds of rumors about why the others survived. Akhmatova, her poetry was well known although it hadn't been published for a long time; she was credited with some famous poems during the war, as if that would matter to Stalin. Why Pasternak? It's said that he had translated some Georgian poets into Russian and Stalin appreciated that. But who's to say? There are a lot of disputes about Shostakovich today, whether he was a dissident, whether he was a conformist. He was both. And a lot of the rest is pure speculation. 

As to Ehrenburg, my conclusion in the book was, in the end, his life, unlike the others, depended on the will of one man, on Stalin. And for complicated reasons, people understood that. And so, for example, when Ehrenburg's arrest was publicly announced in 1949, he was not arrested. Unlike other people, he actually wrote to Stalin for an explanation. So, Ehrenburg was willing to play the few cards he had at moments of vulnerability. He wrote to Stalin in '38 when he was not allowed out of the country to return to Spain. He was covering the Spanish Civil War. He got word back, "No, we're not letting you out, you must stay here" and they took his passport away. He wrote to Stalin again saying, "No, my place is in Spain." And this is in the very dangerous months after Bukharin's trial, and Ehrenburg was allowed to go back to Spain. There are many of these very unusual moments where others would have stayed at home, and quietly Ehrenburg said, "I need an answer here." Paradoxically, that might have enhanced his survivability. But the bottom line is that if Stalin had died a few months later, Ehrenburg might have been arrested in that final purge of Jewish figures.

Again, it's a complicated story. Ehrenburg was more prepared than anyone else in the country for the post-Stalin period, and he immediately became outspoken for reform, which is what led to the dissidents looking to him as a representative figure. Until the emergence of Solzhenitsyn in November of 1962 with "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," his first published story, Ehrenburg was simply the most controversial, most iconic figure in the country. Everything he said became the ground for controversy and debate. His first novel, "The Thaw," which lends its name to that period of Soviet history, people say he wrote in order to introduce one word into Soviet vocabulary, "ottyepel," "the thaw." And the regime never forgave him for that. He organized an exhibit of Picasso in 1956. Picasso was his lifelong friend. In Moscow, it was the first exhibit of the Soviet period. He wrote a 1,200-page memoir, which the regime tried to suppress, and he engineered its publication over the objections of Khrushchev, who was the dictator of the country. Now, how do you do that? It's a very complicated story. 

Stephan Edwards: I actually have one more thing, too, to ask Professor Shaw. As we move toward tackling issues of human rights and mass violence, and your discussion about the limitations of narrative, and the limitations of traditional paradigms that we've been discussing about reconciliation, do you see modes or different kinds of structure in the future for addressing reconciliation outside of the narrative paradigm that we've been working with right now? 

Rosalind Shaw: They already exist. People are already using them. All over Africa – in Mozambique, in Sudan, in Sierra Leone, in Senegal – people have developed their own strategies of reintegration and reconciliation or coexistence. I think there's now starting to be a groundswell of practitioners, activists, and scholars involved in transitional justice, who are starting to question the received wisdoms, the traditional paradigm. They know that one way in which we have to rethink this kind of traditional tool kit of transitional justice is by looking at what people are already doing and building on that. 

Woman: I'm an international student from Russia, from Babson College, and I'd like to ask a question of Mr. Rubenstein. During the times of Stalin, in Russia, a lot of people were scared to speak, so I was wondering about your own reaction and perception about people who you talked to. Were they eager to talk to you? Were they eager to share? Or were they scared?

Josh Rubenstein: That's a very good question, because it had to do with the research I was doing. I like to tell people I began under Brezhnev and finished under Yeltsin. In the 1980s, I was there several times while Brezhnev was alive; then we got to the Gorbachev period. Gradually, people became more willing to speak, even to a microphone, but even more importantly, I had access to documents. I had full access to the archives by 1990. Probably if I had gone earlier, I could have, but certainly by 1990. And not only to the literary archives, but also at the Lenin library, I was also brought newspapers that had stamp on them for the special archive, the special shelves, which means they were not to be given out. But a scholar could come, a Russian scholar or an American student, and ask to see those newspapers, mainly from the civil war period, when Ehrenburg was criticizing the Bolsheviks in Moscow. I was able to read those things, right from the Soviet archives. The Soviet Union only collapsed in '91. So, I found people to be increasingly willing to speak to me and be candid with me and not worry about microphones or being overheard. 

Sophie Freud, Heller School graduate, retired professor of social work, Simmons College: I want to thank you for rehabilitating Ehrenburg, who was one of my admired authors in my youth. I'm surprised how many people seem to know him. I thought I was the only one.

In our government now, everything is divided between good and evil; it's just a relief to hear that ambiguity is still recognized as we did in these last two days. I want to express my appreciation for recognizing that. 

Susannah Sirkin, deputy director, Physicians for Human Rights: I just wanted to make two observations. One of them relates to Corinne's discussion about Sierra Leone. I think it's really important to get a much deeper understanding from the populations that have gone through these traumas as to what people want. But I also think it's really important to separate what process is important for individuals and what process is important for the collective, the society as well as the history of the country, if you will. We did a study in Sierra Leone, one of the only random samples gathered of internally displaced women. It focused on sexual violence, on those who had been raped or abused by the RUF. We surveyed 900 households. We asked about what people wanted in terms of the response, whether they wanted prosecutions or truth commissions, whether they wanted to tell the story or not tell the story, whether they wanted to forgive or forget, and so forth. We found at least half did want something to happen to the perpetrators. Then, it sort of peeled off from there; we did find a significant proportion that did want to forgive and forget, or put it behind them. It was too traumatic. They just wanted to move on, have peace, get it over with. That was definitely a portion, but it was a minority, in fact. And then we found, by extrapolation, that as many as 10,000 women of the group that had been sexually violated in the course of the war wanted the opportunity or would be willing to tell their story in a court of law. And this is the hard thing, because if you say at the end of the day, "Well, we're not going to have a truth commission, we'll just have prosecutions," there's no way you can really prosecute every perpetrator, and those women will never all be able to tell their stories in court. So, there have to be other ways. But I want to endorse the complexity of this conversation and the importance of going to the people more and more in surveys. The International Center for Transitional Justice and University of California at Berkeley have just done a study, and they've actually surveyed whole populations as to what should be done. But to me, being in human rights for more than 20 years, seeing what happens to countries or societies that only forget is something that scares me. We know this also from the aftermath of the Holocaust. So even though individuals have a right to not tell their story and to forget, if everyone forgets, it's probably a bad thing because we know how this is likely to engender repetitions or pass festering wounds on, perhaps to another generation. I think that it's something that we have to think about. 

Rosalind Shaw: First of all, I'd like to thank Physicians for Human Rights for their extraordinary report on sexual violence in Sierra Leone. That was an extremely important report. And of course, those who told their story to Physicians for Human Rights were not doing so in public, and their identities were protected. The kind of investigation that Physicians for Human Rights did and the huge importance of that is, I think, completely undeniable. On the other hand, some of the claims that the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions tend to make and tend to get passed on as articles of faith, there's very little evidence behind them. There is very little evidence that Truth and Reconciliation Commissions act as some kind of national catharsis. There's very little evidence that they enable a nation to heal. There is very little evidence that memory, in any way, prevents the recurrence of conflicts. In fact, memory is just as likely to undermine coexistence as it is to promote coexistence. I think so many of the claims made about both the collective and the individual consequences of truth commissions really require proper investigation. 

Dan Terris, director, International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life: First of all, I'd like to congratulate myself for persuading Leigh to take on the leadership of this conference, and congratulate Leigh for persuading Mark Auslander to join her, and then congratulate both of them for persuading such an extraordinary group of people to participate in what I think has been an extremely rich two days of conversation. Listening to this last panel on audience, efficacy, and ethics made me think that in some ways, this conference has really illustrated vividly the enormous gulf between how a story is told and how a story is heard. That is, of course, one of the incredible complexities and challenges of this whole field. 

We've brought up this whole question of who owns a story, and we talked a lot about the ways in which so-called victims tell their stories and then don't necessarily have ownership of how it is heard, how it's re-told. We talked about the ethical problems regarding underage victims of gender-based violence and the ways in which they lose control of their own story even as they're speaking it. But we've also highlighted, I think in very powerful ways, the ways in which those who are telling the story, whether journalists or representatives of NGOs or anthropologists or anybody else, have a hard time keeping control of the stories that they think they are able to communicate. We heard this, literally, with regard to Physicians for Human Rights; they don't even own much of the evidence they have collected, and the stories they want to tell are in some ways constricted by sheer matters of ownership. 

We've also talked a lot about the ways in which things get seen once they become public. Corinne started us off yesterday by showing us her photographs of the cholera epidemic that followed the Rwandan genocide, and she talked about how those are reinterpreted and imagined as testimony, as evidence, of the genocide itself. Once these stories become part of this larger public domain, how they're heard and how they're thought of isn't necessarily the way that they're first documented and presented. This is most powerful and most troubling in the ways in which stories that are told with one kind of imperative can so easily be integrated into the existing world views of those that are hearing them and processing them. In regard to the stories about the so-called child witches, we talked a lot about the ways in which those stories might be integrated into a worldview that saw Africa as a wounded continent, a dark continent, a primitive continent. But there are dozens of other ways in which stories can also be integrated into our existing worldviews. We all do this, whether we are integrating these stories into a worldview that says that these things can be attributed to particular bad guys – whether that's Charles Taylor or Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro – or a worldview that says that many of these things can be traced to U.S. expansionism and to capitalism. Stories that start with one kind of imperative may end up in an entirely different place. Maybe for our next conference, with might think not only about how stories are generated and the complexities of that, but the specific dynamics of how they create change, whether they create change, and what the complex interactions are between those that tell them and those who listen.