New Internationalist

Telling truths

The power in truth and the justice in revenge…

What’s wrong with a bit of revenge? It may be a base emotion, but it has some redeeming qualities that we ignore at our peril. For individuals, it acknowledges the harm done to the victim and punishes the perpetrator - needs which, if unmet, can be psychologically devastating to a victim. Within countries, ‘moving on’ from conflict without meeting the needs of victims can mean widespread community violence decades later. So when a war is over, and yesterday’s enemies are now one’s neighbours, how do the victims of conflict obtain justice without revenge? How is it possible for people to move towards peace when they can see their torturers or rapists - the people that they have nightmares about - in the street enjoying life, free and prosperous?

Today’s co-host - law professor Teresa Godwin Phelps - has written a book about it: Shattered Voices: Language, Violence and the Work of Truth Commissions. Together with today’s guests, she explores the power of Truth Commissions to help a country face up to its past and move into its future.

On behalf of indigenous peoples abused by their governments, National Chief Phil Fontaine from Canada’s Assembly of First Nations has been at the forefront of obtaining both words of apology and the action that must flow from them. He weighs up the weaknesses and strengths of saying sorry.

The people of some countries are demanding more than an acknowledgement of the past. Thun Suray - Chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee - puts the case for prosecuting military murderers through trial and punishment.

Rita Arditti - the author of Searching for life: The grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina - recounts the resilience of truth and how it is uncovering the identities of children stolen during Argentina’s military regime thirty years ago.

In the melodies taken from today’s CD, Sahara, Spanish singer-songwriter Javier Ruibal delivers performances that are beautiful but haunting, staying with those experiencing it well after they are finished… just like the unresolved injustices that are discussed throughout this program.

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