Translating Human Rights Testimonies by Christi A. Merrill

"Only a few pages into Ajay Navariya’s harrowing 2004 short story “Subcontinent,” the narrator recalls a traumatic scene from his childhood in which he watches helplessly as a gang of upper-caste men beat up his father within an inch of his life. The attackers were incensed that an “untouchable” (or “achut” in the Hindi) would have the audacity to return to the village in a clean new kurta, rupees in his pocket, greeting friends comfortably, and holding his head high.

In our translation of the story, Laura Brueck and I have decided to maintain a range of registers analogous to what we see in the Hindi, but have chosen not to offer bald explanations for details that an insider might recognize as part of the daily discourse of discrimination against Dalits.;view=fulltext

Human Rights, Testimony, and Transnational Publicity by Meg McLagan

In order to help create the transnational public sphere they envisioned, international human rights activists deployed a number of strategies, among them the production and circulation of testimonies by victims of rights abuses. Testimonies are first person narratives in which an individual's account of bodily suffering at the hands of oppressive governments or other agents come to stand for the oppression of a group. Rooted in dual Christian notions of witnessing and the body as the vehicle of suffering, testimony is a deeply persuasive cultural form that animates and moves western sensibilities. Although testimony has long played an important part in rights advocacy (dating back to abolitionism), its use grew in the 1990s and testimonies proliferated in multiple genres and arenas, from written texts to film and video documentaries to 'live' performances/face-to-face encounters in activist meetings, NGO forums and governmental hearings. My essay explores this phenomenon, focusing on the role of several mediated forms of testimony, e.g. 'cine testimonials' (testimony on film/video) and testimony online, in activist attempts to construct a transnational public."


The Oral History Forum d'histoire orale is proud to announce the launch of its new special issue, "Human Rights and Oral History: Stories of survival, healing, redemption, and accountability," guest edited by Michael Kilburn. The following articles and reviews are online: 
Marica Šapro-Ficović: "Libraries Under Siege in Croatia 1991-1995"
Musiwaro Ndakaripa: "Ethnicity, narrative, and the 1980s violence in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces of Zimbabwe"
Joannie Jean: "Représentations de soi et positionnement social chez les membres de l’association familles de détenus-disparus à Santiago"
Joseph Ben Kaifala, JD: "Transitional Justice in Sierra Leone: Oral History, Human Rights, and Post-Conflict Reconciliation"
Sally Carlton: "Rebuilding lives: Interviewing refugee background people in Christchurch three years after the earthquakes"
Katherine Fobear: "Telling Our Truths: Oral History, Social Justice, and Queer Refugees"
Hannah Loney: "‘This is Me’: Exploring Narrative and Trauma within Women’s Memories of the Indonesian Occupation of Timor-Leste (1975-1999)"
Susan M. Glisson: "‘Everything Old is New Again: Storytelling and Dialogue as Tools for Community Change in Mississippi"

Healing through giving testimony: An empirical study with Sri Lankan torture survivors.

"Sri Lanka has recently emerged from a three decade long civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Behind the actual arena of conflict, forms of organised violence were often perpetrated on ordinary Sri Lankans who came into contact with law enforcement officials and other state authorities. The effects of these encounters on mental health, well-being, and community participation can be severe and long-lasting. Considering the generally poor availability of mental health services in many low-income countries, brief efficient interventions are required to enhance the lives of individuals and their families affected by torture, trauma, or displacement. In this context, the present study evaluated the effectiveness of testimonial therapy in ameliorating the distress of Sri Lankan survivors of torture and ill-treatment. The results indicated that over a 2- to 3-month period, psychosocial functioning was significantly enhanced in the therapy group compared to the waitlist control group. The general benefits of testimonial therapy, the ease with which it can be incorporated into ongoing human rights activities, and its application by trained nonprofessionals encourage greater use of the approach."

The self as capital in the narrative economy: how biographical testimonies move activism in the Global South.

"his article analyses and theorises the practice of biographical storytelling of HIV-positive AIDS activists in South Africa. Combining research in illness narratives, studies of emotions in social activism and analysis of global health institutions in Africa, I explore how biographical self-narrations are deployed to facilitate access to resources and knowledge and thus acquire material and symbolic value. I illustrate my argument through the analysis of the case of an AIDS activist who became a professional biographical storyteller. Based on the analysis which I claim to represent wider dynamics in human-rights-based health activism in the Global South, I propose the concept of narrative economies by which I mean the set of exchange relationships within which biographical self-narrations circulate and produce social value for individuals and organisations."

Out of the Shadows: Testimonio as Civic Participation

"This article draws from a 23-month ethnographic study of mixed-status families living in an emerging Latino/a community to examine 3 undocumented mothers’ participation in the act of givingtestimonio, or testimony. In this context,testimonio serves as a grassroots tactic for political advocacy and community formation that compensates for and reacts against the limited opportunities for civic participation afforded noncitizens. The findings indicate that givingtestimonioin both public and domestic settings constitutes a form of civic participation in which undocumented mothers actually attempt to move out of the shadows and into a more public domain."

Women’s testimony and collective memory: Lessons from South Africa’s TRC and Rwanda’s gacaca courts

This article uses a comparative approach to elucidate the ways in which women’s testimony operated in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and in Rwanda’s gacaca courts, to draw out some important lessons for future mechanisms of transitional justice. The author argues that while restorative justice mechanisms allow more space for including women’s own experiences of human rightsviolation than conventional trials, they may pose greater danger for those who testify. A significant problem resulting from the narratives of both gacaca and the TRC is the way in which a ‘singular woman victim’ emerges that elides the complexity of women’s experiences in collective memory. It is feared that what has emerged from the official discourse of these two truth-seeking mechanisms is a one-dimensional female victim subject – in South Africa, she is of secondary importance, in Rwanda, she can only be Tutsi, and in both cases she is stripped of all agency, where rape becomes definitive of her experience. "

Comfort Women in Human Rights Discourse: Fetishized Testimonies, Small Museums, and the Politics of Thin Description

"The article focuses on comfort women who were women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II. It mentions that the recorded testimony of comfort woman survivor Lola Fidencia David will be part of the oral history collection at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). It notes the activism movement held in Korea regarding military sexual slavery."

Towards a pedagogy of listening: teaching and learning from life stories of human rights violations

"In response to the task of designing curriculum that helps youth engage thoughtfully with digital stories of human rights violations, the authors articulate the central tenets of a pedagogy of listening that draws upon elements of oral history, concepts of witnessing and testimony, the work on listening of Dewey, Freire and Rinaldi and the philosophy of listening. These tenets are explored in relation to the five curricular units for secondary schools that they produced as part of a large oral history project that documents the life stories of Montrealers displaced by war, genocide and other human rights violation. The pedagogy of listening aims to: promote more democratic relations, build a listening community and foster close and attentive listening, develop an ethics of listening, support critical reflexive practice and movement towards social action, explore the multitude of listenings, explore listening as curation and foster students’ historical imaginations."

"You Only Have Your Word:" Rape and Testimony

"The definition of rape in international law is in flux, as the controversy over the differences between a "mechanical" and a "conceptual" definition has shown. This article explores the intersection of three contradictory premises about the narrative testimony of rape that arises from the problem of defining the crime. It explores this intersection through the frames of legal theory, visual theory, and narrative texts, drawing its examples from the Rwandan genocide, where the correlation of narrative testimony to the production of images shaped a rich vein of philosophical inquiry into the nature of witnessing"

Transitional Justice in Sierra Leone: Oral History, Human Rights, and Post-Conflict Reconciliation by Joseph Ben Kaifala, JD

"The concept of oral history is not a novel idea in Sierra Leonean society where historical knowledge has always been passed on from one generation to another around late night fires beneath a moonlit sky. The fireside gatherings, in addition to various secret societies, served as institutions of learning in which elders transmitted stories of cultural triumphs or tragedies to the younger generation. The stories were intended to alert the youth to the circumstances underlying their past and their future responsibilities as heirs to the cultural heritage. Formal education, as an element of the colonial enterprise, removed children from these fireside academies into Westernized classrooms where we studied only colonial versions of our past. ... "

Prisons for Profit: Incarceration for Sale

This article was written by Michael Vrickner and Sakyra Diaz in 2011. It introduces the history of private prisons and why they became so popular. The number of private prisons as grown proportional to the number of Americans incarcerated for low-level crimes. It is extremely expensive for the government to run an overflowed prison so a solution was found in private prisons. The conservative belief that the private industry can operate more efficiently than government run operation was disproved in 2011 when the Arizona Department of Corrections released a report stating some private prisons actually cost more than state-operated facilities. Private prisons have also been found to be corrupt as the companies are attempting to maximize profits. For instance, this article discusses a Pennsylvania private prison that "sentenced kids to harsher punishments in order to keep the company's private facility filled." Private prisons are also known for providing campaign money for various political figures in order to gain support for legislation that would benefit profits. This article also discusses how private prisons are more concerned with profit rather than safety. For instance, private prisons minimize maintenance and staff training in order to save money. Thus, the surrounding community is not safe since the staff is unqualified to deal with dangerous individuals. Private prisons also gain money by housing a certain number of inmates so a company will do anything in its power to ensure their prison is always filled.

Are Private Prisons to Blame for Mass Incarceration and its Evils? Prison Conditions, Neoliberalism, and Public Choice

This article by Hada Aviram explores the distinction between public and private prisons. One of the main focuses of this article is do analyze the ethical aspects of private prisons. A main ethical concern is profiting from human suffering as private prisons are able to have prisoners complete cheap labor and get profit for having a full prison. Due to privatization, "prison population and incarceration become a function not of crime rates and public safety, but of supply and demand." Some people argue that there is evil in the private prison system as more and more immigrants are being arrested and detained in order to increase profits. Another focus of this article is private prisons' role in mass incarceration. In general, private prisons are more cost effective when they contain at least 1000 beds and are at least 90% full. This promotes mass incarceration of individuals to make a profit. The article also covers the interesting idea that some public prisons are actually privatized. The main form of privatization in public prisons is found in the health services, phone company, etc. Overall, this article concludes that private and public prisons are motivated by different incentives to house inmates.

Apples-To-Fish: Public and Private Prison Cost Comparisons

This study by Alex Friedmann explores whether or not private prisons actually save money compared to public facilities by looking at the costs shifted from private facilities to the public sector. The conclusion of past studies has been "prison privatization provides neither a clear advantage nor disadvantage compared with publicly managed prisons." This artcle brings up the interesting point that it is difficult to compare public and private prisons unless they have similar characteristics (security, staffing, population types, etc.). Contrary to popular belief, a 2010 Arizona Office of the Auditor General report found "that privately-operated prisons were more expensive than public prisons when using an adjusted per capita rate." Another interesting point is the prisoner labor costs. Most prisons are dependent on prisoner labor. Private companies especially benefit because the wages are often paid by a contracting public agency. This article also touches on the profit motivation found in private companies that results in corruption.

First Hand Accounts - Children in Detention

Tells the story of Maria, a woman who came to the U.S. to escape her rapist that was threatening to kill her and her son. Tells the story of another woman who came seeking asylum because her and her daughter were promised death, if they did not pay them fees for her business. This article though, focuses in on the children and how they are affected by the immigration detention centers.