Friday, June 20, 2003

Religion and Reconciliation in South Africa

New Book

Religion and Reconciliation in South Africa: Voices of Religious Leaders Edited by Audrey R. Chapman and Bernard Spong

Postapartheid South Africa's efforts to come to terms with its past, particularly its Truth and Reconciliation Commission's emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation, is of special interest to many in the world community. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was mandated to go beyond truth-finding and to "promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflict and divisions of the past." In contrast with other truth commissions, the TRC was led by clerics rather than lawyers and judge, and the TRC's approach to reconciliation was shaped by and imbued with religious content. The TRC submitted its final report to the Mandela administration in October 1998.
Over the next two years, the Rev. Bernard Spong, former communications director of the South African Council of Churches, conducted a series of in-depth interviews about the TRC with thirty-three key religious figures.

For more information, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2003

EU Strengthens ICC Support

(Brussels, June 16, 2003) By adopting a revised Common Position on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the European Union (EU) reinforced its support for international justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Submissions on Reparations in South Africa

Request for submissions by Ad Hoc Committee on Reparations. This Committee, set up to consider the President's recommendations regarding reparations as required by section 27 of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 1995, invites affected persons or bodies to make written submissions to the committee by Thursday, 19 June 2003. Submissions to Ms Ntombe Mbuqe (P O Box 15 Cape Town 8000, Email nmbuqe@parliament.gov.za, Fax: 021 - 403 2725, Telephone 021 403 3761)

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Blogging's too good for them

Walking through the streets of Blogistan this week, I couldn't help noticing a certain tension in the air. The natives were restless. The saloon bars were abuzz with nervous chatter. And it wasn't about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Something was most definitely up. But what? And who was this Eric Schmidt fellow that everyone was talking about? And why did I seem to be the only person in the world without his own weblog? Questions, questions.

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Truth in Northern Ireland

BBC Northern Ireland security editor Brian Rowan looks at the question of how best to close the past and give victims their place in the new Northern Ireland. Click here. I have written a short response, mainly to the frantic TV coverage of the issue this week in Northern Ireland, click here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

A truth commission for Northern Ireland?

This week the BBC has been focusing on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. The most startling thing about this debate has been how issues have been narrowed before genuine discussion has started. Concepts like truth and justice have been bandied about as if they were mutually exclusive and as if they meant the same to everyone.

The South African model has been used as a benchmark for discussion, with little recognition of what it was about. The other twenty or so truth commissions, in societies as diverse as Ghana, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Sierra Leone, have meanwhile been ignored.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, it seems we all should have an opinion on whether there should be a truth commission for Northern Ireland. Ground work already done on these issues has been neglected, and more measured approaches circumvented.

Debate on this issue is vital, and the more the better. But some key points have been lost in the media circus.

First, dealing with decades of conflict is long-term, complex and time-consuming. It cannot be summed up in a few interviews or emails. It will not entail a single approach or model. International lessons suggest it takes decades. We should not look for any quick fixes.

We should not rush into opinions on different methods before we have agreed that remembering, acknowledgement, truth and justice are important issues for victims and society at large. We must interrogate what we mean by these terms and debate our different perspectives.

The past can only be dealt with if all concerned enter the debate in an inclusive way, aimed at entrenching peace. We should not underestimate the importance of getting this right, ensuring that the discussion is aimed at reconciliation and not point-scoring.

If we do not first agree the underlying principles, all discussion will be contorted and subject to political wrangling. This will ultimately result in mechanisms that will continue the conflict by different means, rather than finding ways constructively to resolve it.

The most extensive consultation on this issue to date has been carried out by the Healing Through Remembering Project. This sought to document possible mechanisms and realisable options for how remembering should occur, so that healing could take place for all those affected. This took two years of discussion.

Importantly, this consultation was run by a board reflecting a range of very diverse backgrounds. The project received over 100 written submissions and recorded thousands of hits on its website.

Many submissions endorsed the value of remembering and spoke of the importance of finding ways to move society forward. But others expressed concerns about the potential pitfalls. The idea of remembering also evoked an emotional response, indicative of much hurt and unresolved pain. The project’s recommendations include a focus on truth recovery, but extend well beyond it.

This is the second point: dealing with the past needs to be seen as wider than a truth-recovery process. Any such mechanism should run alongside other initiatives, such as storytelling, a living museum about the conflict, an annual day of reflection and a network of commemoration projects. Many community projects are also part of the picture.

In the same vein, although victims are central in dealing with the past, thorough engagement demands a focus on the entire society. This is vital when considering the issue of responsibility for the hurts suffered.

It was pointed out in several of the submissions that the need to revisit the past was not confined to those who saw themselves as primarily involved in the conflict: politicians, victims and those who carried out violent acts. For any collective remembering to be helpful it needs to engage the entire society and particularly those who saw themselves as ‘uninvolved'. The whole society has a responsibility to deal with the past.

Thirdly, the Healing Through Remembering Project does recommend that a formal truth-recovery process should be given careful consideration, though only as one part of dealing with the past. But it stipulates that an important first step is a process of acknowledgement, by all, of acts of commission and/or omission.

Political parties, the British and Irish states, republican and loyalist paramilitaries and other institutions would all need fully to acknowledge the extent of their particular culpability. In fact, we should all consider what we have done and have not done to prevent loss of life. Sincere acknowledgment is the key foundation for exploring truth recovery in an even-tempered, self-effacing and responsible manner.

Copyright Brandon Hamber 11 June 2003

Brandon Hamber works as an independent consultant to the Healing Through Remembering Project and is a research associate of Democratic Dialogue in Belfast.

Mbeki speaks out on apartheid suits

The government does not support compensation lawsuits by apartheid victims against businesses, President Thabo Mbeki reiterated on Tuesday.

Many of the companies named in such lawsuits are today helping with South Africa's development, Mbeki said at the end of a meeting with his Swiss counterpart Pascal Couchepin.

In May, a group called the Apartheid Claims Task Force announced plans to file a lawsuit worth billions of dollars in New York against South African gold mining company Gold Fields for making blacks work under "sub-human" conditions during the apartheid regime.

One of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit is US attorney Ed Fagan, who already spearheaded a successful claim against Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust victims.

Fagan has also filed or announced plans to file other suits against Swiss and US banks, pharmaceutical conglomerates, car manufacturers, food giant Nestle, and mining companies De Beers and Anglo American, among others, on the grounds that they benefited under the apartheid regime.

Mbeki has said on previous occassions that the South African government found the suits unacceptable.

"We consider it completely unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of our country should be adjudicated in foreign courts which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country and the observance of the perspective contained in our constitution of the promotion of national reconciliation," he said in Cape Town on April 15.

AFP, 11 Jun 2003

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

A review of David Rieff, A Bed for the Night

A review of David Rieff, A Bed for the Night. Humanitarianism in Crisis New York, Simon and Schuster; London, Vintage, 2002. 367 pp. by David Becker, click here for the article.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Transcript of US District Court 19 May 2003

Click here to download (text file) the transcript of US District Court 19 May 2003, Litigation against international companies supporting apartheid by Fagan and Associates.

Litigation against international companies supporting apartheid

Click here to download (text file) the transcript of US District Court 19 May 2003, Litigation against international companies supporting apartheid by Fagan & Associates.