Remembering Victims and Abuses

Using the emotional power of a historic site and personal stories to raise awareness of current human rights questions

Recreating an 1897 apartment and dressmaking shop, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum brings together representatives from conflicting sectors of the garment industry to discuss what needs to be done — and by whom — to address the problem of sweatshops today.

Using national laws to bring to justice those who perpetrate crimes against humanity in other countries

The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) uses the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) to bring legal cases against multinational corporations complicit in human rights abuses. Dating to 1789 and created to address and prevent piracy, the ATCA is a United States federal statute allowing foreign nationals to bring civil actions against U.S. citizens and corporations for violations of international law.

Publicly exposing abusers through targeted demonstrations

Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Children for Identity and Justice Against Forget­fulness and Silence, or H.I.J.O.S) organizes targeted demonstrations in front of the homes of people who have been identified as perpetrators of human rights abuses. These demonstrations, called escraches (“unmaskings”), publicly expose the abusers and allow communities to express their moral condemnation.

Promoting justice by leveraging the legal rights to access victims’ records

The Centro de Documentación y Archivo (CDyA) opened police files to the public after the country’s 35-year military dictatorship.

The constitution of Paraguay, like the constitutions of five other Latin American countries, includes the right of habeas data: the right of former prisoners to control data collected about them and their experiences. After filing a petition to obtain his own file, Martin Almada, a former political prisoner, accompanied by a local judge, found thousands of detention files in a police station in Lambare in 1992.

Organizing mock tribunals to raise awareness of human rights abuses and influence public policy

BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, along with the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre, organized the first National Tribunal on Violence against Women. Held in March 2002 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capi­tal, the tribunal was unofficial and not legally binding, but the testimony was real. Thirty-three women testified, sharing their experiences in order to help the public learn about the abuses suffered by women in their homes, in their communities and at the hands of the government, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape and female genital mutilation.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

Mapping personal histories and mobilizing memory to reclaim a place in history and recover lost land

The District Six Museum in South Africa spearheaded a land claim in which people ultimately recovered both the property and dignity they had lost under apartheid. It continues to be a space where people can collect, dissemi­nate and exchange memories of the neighborhood. It is also actively involved in promoting civic dialogue about humane cities in South Africa.

Involving the community in determining offenders’ sentences and helping to rehabilitate them

Peacemaking circles use traditional circle ritual and structure to create a respectful space in which all interested community members — victim, victim supporters, offender, offender supporters, judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, police and court workers — can speak openly in a shared attempt to understand a crime, to identify what is needed to heal all affected parties and to prevent future occurrences.

Holding an international tribunal to raise awareness of and seek reparations for sexual war crimes

The Violence Against Women in War Network, Japan (VAWW-NET) created a tribunal to acknowledge and seek justice for victims of sexual war crimes. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Japanese government created a system of sexual slavery through a network of “comfort stations,” brothel facilities controlled by the military. An estimated 400,000 women and girls were forced into the system. For close to 50 years, the atrocity remained behind a veil of silence.

Establishing a formal truth commission to investigate and acknowledge gross human rights violations

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was initiated by national legislation in 1995, after a period of public debate. Its mandate was to collect information about gross human rights violations committed by state bodies or the armed opposition during apartheid and its goal was to promote national unity and reconcili­ation. The Commission was expected to offer suggestions for policy reforms to prevent future abuses. In addition to amnesty and human rights hearings, special hearings focused on abuses suffered by women and children and others were held on the role of faith communities, the medical establishment, the legal sector, the business com­munity and other institutions that had passively or actively contributed to rights violations.

For more information on the "victim accompaniment" tactic within the context of the South African TRC, read our in-depth case study.

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