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Memorializing with Documentation

Today’s post spotlights the second installment of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre’s “Memorandum Series.” For more on Documentation and Memorialization, download and read the full memo “Documentation and its Role in Memorialization,” prepared for the SJAC by Ereshnee Naidu, here.

Successful transitional justice aims to ensure peace, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. In Syria, suffering, devastation, and fragmentation pose real challenges to a stable peace. Achieving the goals of transitional justice will be more than just difficult—it will take time. Fortunately, memorialization processes recognize the importance of memory and have become widely-recognized as a key pillar of transitional justice.

Memorialization works to preserve memory and facts from a conflict, while also serving as a powerful catalyst for positive social transformation. Given the politically sensitive nature of memorialization efforts, documentation during and after a conflict can provide memorialization with a foundation based on facts, contributing to perceptions of legitimacy. Memorialization can take a range of forms, and in the past has included the preservation of physical sites of memory, such as the Nyayo House in Kenya which previously served as a secret torture center. Now, Nyayo House is the focus of a popular effort seeking to preserve the site for its truth-telling potential. In Syria, the revelation of torture centers, as in Human Rights Watch’s “Torture Archipelago” report, suggests the potential for physical sites to be used in memorialization.

With individual and community memory at the heart of memorialization efforts, documenting spontaneous memorialization during the conflict is one important way to ensure an inclusive and participatory process. Preserving such popular memorials will help to reflect as many narratives, experiences, and perspectives on the conflict as possible. Spontaneous memorials, such as graffiti, vigils for martyrs, and public demonstrations, can also be documented for the memorialization process. Records of such public expressions will not only help to preserve important experiences of the conflict, but also corroborate narratives and viewpoints. Organic memorialization efforts can include video, photographic, and written documentation of Syrians’ experience of the ongoing conflict, and should include Syrians in rebel- and regime- held areas, and from a range of backgrounds and roles. To the extent that such experiences can be integrated to larger memorialization efforts, they will contribute to perceptions of legitimacy and encourage Syrians to participate as stakeholders in rebuilding.

While documentation should continue after the conflict, it will also become important for Syrians to decide how the documentation will contribute to particular forms of memorialization. The sequencing of transitional justice events will be important, and documentation and memorialization efforts early on can rebuild Syrian trust, promote dialogue, and encourage Syrian participation as active citizens. To ensure that documentation is effectively integrated into memorialization processes, documentation archives can be explicitly linked to specific memorialization efforts, which also contributes to the transparency of the documentation process.

Memorialization has the power to make documentation accessible to a broad range of stakeholders, to preserve memory over time, and to support dialogue and active participation. Importantly, memorialization not only stands as a tribute to the past, but has the transformational power to promote positive visions of a future Syria based on peace and justice.

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