Counter-memory and Justice in Armed Conflicts

Thursday, Nov 01, 2018 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall, CRG Conference Room
Location is ADA accessible

Angana P. Chatterji, Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Project and Visiting Research Anthropologist, Center for Race & Gender

Mariane C. Ferme, Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, Curator of African Ethnology at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Angana P. Chatterji: Afflicted by long-drawn-out political and foundational violence, including gendered and sexualized violence, contemporary South Asia is surfeited with myriad disputes, nationalist assertions and divisive politics. Here, structural inequalities, majoritarian states, and the glorification of militarism abound. The present is witness to complex histories, residual conflicts and decolonial movements. Pervasive violence delimits the scope of people’s rights. States in South Asia frequently do not adhere to international standards in addressing conflict and often decline to become a party to international processes or to sign and ratify, and honor and enforce, international conventions and norms. If they do, it is often merely symbolic with uneven intent and capacity to comply. For victimized-Others and decolonial movements, there is an urgent need to address conflict and shape justice mechanisms. This presentation analyzes relations between gendered violence, counter-memory, people’s processes for justice, and the right to a remedy in a conflict zone in South Asia. Political control over remembrance, and the enforcement and institutionalization of statist memory sanctions the normalization and sanitization of violence, the violation of human rights and the continuance of militarization. Civil society efforts to preserve counter-memory bind communities to a shared social world amid which questions of acknowledgement and justice may be approached.

Mariane C. Ferme: The Sierra Leone civil war of 1991-2002 became an opportunity to set up one of the first of a new generation of “hybrid” war crimes tribunals, set up after the turn of the millennium in the same countries where the crimes were committed (as opposed to the earlier generation, Yugoslavia and Rwanda, where it was important to put some distance between witnesses and victims testifying about war crimes and crimes against humanity and the society that had enabled atrocities committed in those conflicts). At the same time as the Special Court for Sierra Leone was beginning its investigations preliminary to holding trials, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was also established to hear testimonies in exchange for possible immunity from prosecution at the Court. This created widespread confusion. On the one hand, the TRC was asking potential witnesses to tell their stories in public (and in some cases in private), in exchange for understanding and sympathy, and perhaps an apology from a perpetrator, and in the interest of creating a historical archive of the war. On the other hand, a relatively well endowed Special Court was asking witnesses to also provide testimony in support of trials and of the compilation of the war’s historical archive, in exchange for high per diems by local standards (established on UN scales in US dollars), as well as a whole slate of ancillary services, such as clothing and food allowances, free medical care and school fees for dependent children, very comfortable housing by local standards, protection by security details, and even guaranteed anonymity if necessary, and relocation to other parts of the country or abroad, if a witness was determined to be in danger for his or her testimony. This was especially the case for witnesses at the trial of Charles Taylor, since as a former head of the Liberian state he had the means to threaten potential witnesses, regardless of where they lived. The TRC’s work was undermined by the Special Court’s concurrent search for witnesses, as people preferred to “save” their stories for the latter arena, where they could benefit materially from their witnessing. It also was hampered by an “anti-memory” sentiment among the population, where the continuous narration of traumatic wartime memories  was felt to hamper the process of moving beyond the war and rebuilding lives in its aftermath.


Angana P. Chatterji is the founding Co-chair, Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Project and Visiting Research Anthropologist at the Center for Race and Gender at University of California, Berkeley (and Founding Co-chair of the precursor, Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project at the Center for Social Sector Leadership, Haas School of Business, 2012-2015). A cultural anthropologist, she focuses her scholarly work on issues of political conflict, gendered violence, majoritarian nationalism, religion in the public sphere, and reparatory justice and cultural survival. Her scholarship bears witness to contemporary issues in political conflict and (post)colonial, decolonial conditions of grief, dispossession and agency. In Kashmir, Chatterji co-founded the People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (2008). In Odisha, Chatterji founded the People’s Tribunal on Religious Freedom (2005). She co-led a commission on displacement and mega dams in the Narmada Valley (2004). Previously, Chatterji was Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she co-created a graduate curriculum in postcolonial anthropology and taught from 1997-2011. In 2017, she was appointed a Research Fellow at the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University. In 2015-2016, Chatterji was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University. Chatterji’s publications include: Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present; Narratives from Orissa; lead editor: Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal; co-edited volume: Contesting Nation: Gendered Violence in South Asia; co-contributed anthology: Kashmir; and reports, lead author: BURIED EVIDENCE: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Kashmir (2009), Communalism in Orissa (2006), and Without Land or Livelihood (2004).

Mariane C. Ferme is Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at UC-Berkeley and Curator of African Ethnology at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. She also has held teaching positions at the University of Cambridge (UK), the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), as well as honorary fellowships and visiting positions at Harvard University, University College, London, the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), and the Fondation de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris). Her research focuses on three main areas: 1) materiality and everyday life in rural Sierra Leone (publications include the 2001 book, The Underneath of Things: Violence, History and the Everyday in Sierra Leone, and a co-authored 2014 article in the Journal of Material Culture); 2) violence and the political imagination (Out of War: Violence, Trauma, and the Political Imagination in Sierra Leone, her 2018 book, focuses on the ways in which the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone opened spaces for reimagining figures and sites of the political, and articles on the topic have appeared in Cahiers d’Études Africaines, Politique Africaine, Anthropological Quarterly, and in several edited volumes; and 3) critical approaches to humanitarian institutions and practices, particularly in Sierra Leone, ranging from the prosecution of war crimes at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to responses to the Ebola epidemic (publications have appeared in journals and online open source publications from 2013 to the present, eg, Humanity, Cultural Anthropology “Hotspots,” and PLOS-Neglected Tropical Diseases). Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio center.

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