Memorialisation

Memorialisation refers to a range of processes and forms of collective remembrance. Memorials, museums, monuments and other places of memory represent important sites where the past can be confronted. Throughout the world, prior sites of atrocity, torture and genocide, mass grave sites and other similar locations have been turned into public memorials, drawing innovatively on the memorialisation of the Holocaust (Bickford, 2014). Unlike other transitional mechanisms, such as prosecutions and truth commissions, memorialisation can involve large numbers of people over long periods of time. It can also be initiated by both communities and governments (Hamber et al., 2010).

These memory sites often have the dual aim of providing for education/learning and redress/reflection. In terms of education and social learning, the experience is aimed at creating empathy for the victims as fellow human beings and providing information about the brutality of harms inflicted upon them. In so doing, the aim is also to prevent future episodes of mass atrocity (Bickford, 2014). The goal of redress involves helping survivors and those who lost loved ones to have a space to reflect and to grieve. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, the hillside Halabja Memorial in Iraq and the 8,000 graves at the Srebrenica-Potočari genocide memorial in BiH, for example, have all been designed to provide such a space. Where the two aims co-exist at one site, the design is often to have one part of the site for reflection and another part, similar to a museum, to facilitate learning (Bickford, 2014).

One of the key challenges of memorialisation is determining how to address the narrative of past atrocity, which can be highly contested. Memorial sites can be used to force a specific ideology onto society, becoming more about glorification than memorialisation (Hamber et al., 2010). They can also be used to lay blame on one group over another, which can exacerbate tensions (Andrieu, 2010; Bickford, 2014). In some cases, sites avoid presenting one narrative and aim instead to promote critical thinking and debate. This, however, may be unsatisfactory to victims and may undermine efforts to develop shared values (Hamber et al., 2010).

In order to maximise the impact of memorial sites, they require long-term investment, ongoing programmes and evaluation. Exactly how memorialisation supports social reconstruction or transitional justice is not well documented. It is beneficial to explore how memorialisation can work with other transitional justice mechanisms to further increase impact (Hamber et al., 2010).

For further discussion, see the section on impact of transitional justice in this guide.