Source: (2003) In Nigel Biggar, ed., Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict. Expanded and updated. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. Pp. 87-100.

As Martha Minow remarks, the twentieth century was marked by mass violence, genocide, and torture, along with efforts at secrecy surrounding the perpetrators of such injustices. Law is a public instrument to deal with the past, but it involves a number of questions about collective narratives and memories about the past. For example, whose memories deserve public attention and an open trial? Also, is the adversarial trial the only or best means for public truth-telling about the past? Minow draws from scientific research into memory to highlight the significance for people of prior narratives – in combination with current expectations, needs, and beliefs – in selecting, arranging, and valuing bits of information. In this framework, Minow scrutinizes post-World War II innovations for dealing with human rights violations. These include the International Military Tribunal in Nuremburg; the United Nations; nongovernmental organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; ad hoc international tribunals; truth commissions, and the International Criminal Court. Examining these innovations, she suggests that each has strengths and weaknesses in forging collective memories to address the past and prevent future injustices.