In anticipation of March 24, the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations, ICTJ asked young advocates in six countries why seeking the truth about the past matters to them. We are honored to present Elsa Saade of Lebanon, Ghada Louhichi of Tunisia, Julián Barajas of Colombia, Prativa Khanal of Nepal, Tamara Cremo of Canada, and Touré Issoumaila of Cote d’Ivoire with a platform to be heard globally on this issue. What they have to say concerns us all.
Common to all of them is a practical interest in the truth about the past: if the facts are unknown and the causes left unaddressed, how can they be sure that the same violence won’t be repeated?
Knowing the truth, says Touré, is fundamental “to living in tranquility.” When political violence erupted after the 2010 elections in Cote d’Ivoire, he vividly recalls that people were terrified. “I was afraid of dying,” Touré says, “of seeing myself beaten like a dog in the street.” What tranquility can there be in his country if government and society were to act as if nothing had happened, and the facts were never explained?
The young may experience the consequences of violence even if the abuse was not suffered directly by them. Tamara, of Canada, knows that her grandmother was taken away from her family to live in “Indian Residential Schools,” where she was forbidden to speak her language or to use her traditional name, and where she was told she was worthless. Generations later, Tamara still feels that fear in “seeing the ongoing effects of residential schools in communities today.”
Prativa, of Nepal, speaks to the relentless worry and doubts caused by cases of enforced disappearance. She explains that “the families of victims are forced to endure continued mental trauma for years after the incident has passed; whenever there is a knock at the door late at night, these families continue to hope that it might be their beloved sons, daughters and fathers returning home. To resolve this issue once and for all, it is imperative that the State seeks the truth about what happened.”
At the same time, these youth acknowledge that the truth may be hard to hear. As Elsa, of Lebanon, shares, “I’m ready for the truth, to find out whether [he] died violently or in peace. I prefer to know and live knowing than to have my heart die waiting.”
Another common theme in the discussion is the potential of truth seeking to facilitate mutual recognition in a divided society. According to Julián, of Colombia, official silence shows a lack of respect for victims. In his view, “To stop hiding the truth and to shed light on the acts of cruelty that have taken place can create a higher social consciousness…a society that promotes respect for others.”
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