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Dealing with the Past

Violence can easily erupt again in (post-) conflict regions, especially when past wounds have never healed. PAX is investigating how a society can deal with a violent past. Perpetrators should not go unpunished. And victims are entitled to remedy: acknowledgement of what has been done to them and compensation for their losses. 'Dealing with the Past' (DWP) is a central theme of PAX's work.

It is incredibly challenging to rebuild a country after a war or large-scale violence. Just think of Bosnia and Kosovo, Iraq and South Sudan. The effort involved in dealing with past suffering and a faltering democratisation will often engender a relapse into violence. Nevertheless, civilians continue to strive for non-violent solutions and peaceful coexistence.

Together with local partners (such as victims' associations) and local, national, and international authorities, we try to make a contribution to some of the following pillars of Dealing with the Past:

  • truth finding (such as documentation and investigation)
  • justice (such as international and national courts, hybrid courts, monitoring of trials)
  • reparation and remedy (such as compensation and acknowledgement)
  • commemoration and remembrance (such as memorials, museum exhibition, educational material)
  • structural reforms of democratic and state institutions (such as police and military)

It is crucial for us to figure out and deal with the underlying causes of the conflict in post-conflict regions. This does not just involve dealing with the past in a critical fashion. The structures that must provide peace and democracy and that must make reconstruction feasible must also be called into question.
PAX has a strategic partnership with Impunity Watch on the DWP theme.

How do we achieve this in practice?

  • PAX is member of the International Coalition Sites of Conscience, the global network of memory initiatives, historic sites and museums, connecting past struggles to today’s movements for human rights. This network gives access to information, training material, exchange of knowledge between and within continents, and connects PAX to the larger community of very diverse organizations working on DWP, each in their own way.
    Proud member of the International Coalition Sites of Conscience
  • By working together with the Potocari Memorial Centre in Srebrenica (BiH) on an exhibition about the events in Srebrenica during the conflict.
  • Furthermore, by continuing to ask in the Netherlands for apologies from the Dutch government for the errors made by the Dutch military and politicians in 1995, during the fall of Srebrenica. The descendants of Srebrenica are still waiting for this after all.
  • By supporting an initiative in South Sudan, in which information about the victims of various conflicts is being collected (including their name) and is being brought together on the web page: South Sudan: Remembering the ones we lost.
  • By addressing the topic of an inclusive form of commemoration of victims in Iraq during training and dialogue sessions with the local population, in spite of the enormous mutual polarisation between the various population groups.
  • By writing reports about the theme, such as ‘Le droit du connaitre’ (The right to know). A report on the right of victims in Ituri, Congo, to find out what has happened. And the report 'The Dark Side of Coal', which reveals the human rights violations that occurred in Colombia between 1996 and 2006. See also Peace, everyone's business! This report calls for the question how unarmed third parties in Colombia, like companies who bear responsibility for large-scale human right violations or war crimes, can be called to justice for their actions.
  • By conducting, in Kosovo and internationally, the discussion about how the Special Court, created especially for Kosovo and set up in the Netherlands, can make a contribution to justice and to better relationships between Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo in the future. Read the report Assessing the potential impact of the Kosovo Specialist Court.
  • By convening partners from various conflict regions to enter mutually into a dialogue about DWP and to draw conclusions for this for future strategies. Read the report of the International Partners Meeting on Dealing with the Past, organised by PAX and Impunity Watch (IW), which took place in April 2016, in Helvoirt, and the account of the event The burden of a violent past: voices from (post) conflict areas in Pakhuis De Zwijger in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.