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Abstract

Over the past few decades, in response to the horrifying state-sponsored atrocities of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we have seen the rise of what is essentially a new phenomenon, quasi-judicial, quasi-political, quasi-theatrical in nature: the truth commission and other national and international arenas in which victims may bear witness to what they have suffered, and in which the narration of atrocity may serve at once as testimony, redress, and public catharsis. At least twenty truth commissions have been formed over the past several decades (with testimony broadcast on radio and television). There are international and national post-atrocity tribunals of various sorts, personal testimonials in public venues, televised confessionals, documentary films, Internet sites featuring human rights victims telling their stories, all devoted to giving voice to those who have suffered. While the truth commissions differ in significant ways from the international tribunals and these differ from more general media outlets, they (and other public displays of postatrocity narrative) share an underlying aspiration to a kind of redemption through storytelling: 1) narratives of atrocity awaken the sympathetic moral sense of the broader public; 2) both victims and perpetrators are healed through the telling of stories of suffering or the confessional narrative; and 3) the community is healed through the narrative "closure" that the trials provide. Narrative has come to be used instead of (or alongside) punishment or victim compensation-not as evidence but as a form of redress in and of itself. Narrative in human rights has come to have an independent legal-political function.

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