We Shall Bear Witness
Life Narratives and Human Rights
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph
Foreword: Life Stories in a Human Rights Context
Human rights increasingly enter every aspect of the modern world, and the day-to-day lives of people in every country. Milestones have included the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, and the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. But implementation...
The editors would like to thank our colleagues and collaborators at the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at the University of Sussex, the Centre for Life Narratives and the Helen Bamber Centre at Kingston University, and the Departments of Creative Writing and Human Rights at the University of Minnesota. In particular we acknowledge our debt for the initial vision...
Introduction: Life/Rights Narrative in Action
The Human Rights
Act 1998 (also known as the Act or the HRA) came
into force in the United
2000. . . . The Act sets
out the fundamental
in the UK
to. They include:
• Right to life
• Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
• Right to liberty and security...
Part One. Testimony
Transforming traumatic experience into the written word—as testimony, memoir, theater, fiction, or advocacy—can be a complex enterprise, as the writers in this part of the book attest. If the trauma has been caused by an authoritarian state, it can also be a life-threatening one. Three of the writers here—Emin Milli, Nazeeha Saeed, and Hector Aristizábal—not only found...
Beyond Narrative: The Shape of Traumatic Testimony
Abraham Lewin’s diary, posthumously published as Cups of Tears, documents daily life in the Warsaw Ghetto. In these pages, he reflects on both the impossibility and the necessity of expressing his thoughts and feelings. For instance, he describes the day his wife, along with many others, was transported to Treblinka: “Eclipse of the sun, universal blackness. My Luba was taken away.” He...
The Golden Cage: The Story of an Activist
How do societies start to change? By the power of words and by the power of human stories. You get inspired by a story, and then another story, until all these ideas build up to shape your mind and your character. I don’t believe in this ethos of heroism. I don’t think that people just suddenly decide they are going to act; it all builds up slowly until they have to. Most people in closed...
The Price of Words
me to be a teacher,
or a musician,
me to another
and with a different
type of life.
I was only eighteen years old when I started working in journalism. My father was worried for me: he knew that this is a troublesome profession. Nevertheless, my determination alongside his pride in my eventual accomplishments...
Out of the Inner Wilderness: Torture and Healing
Hector Aristizabal, Diane Lefer
Four a.m. A low-income housing project on the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia. The whole neighborhood shook as military trucks rumbled into the barrio on the hunt for subversives. It was 1982. I was twenty-two years old. We were living under the Estatuto de Seguridad, a repressive law that looked on almost any opposition to the government as communist inspired. It was dangerous to talk...
Part Two. Recognition
I come to this project not as a professional historian or theorist but as someone for whom questions of memory and history have been of vital interest—and, indeed, the note I want to touch on here is the deep interweaving between the two: between subjectivity and history, individual narrative and collective memory. My concern with such questions comes, as it clearly does for many of...
The photographs on page 81 of asylum seekers are images from protection, an installation by the Australian artists Carl Warner and Ross Gibson, commissioned by the University of Queensland Art Museum as part of Waiting for Asylum: Figures from an Archive, a special exhibition held in June 2011 that responded to the asylum seeker archives that are held in the Fryer Library at the university. These...
The Justice of Listening: Japanese Leprosy Segregation
Human rights related to illness are quite often counterintuitive. There is a need to carefully examine whether the stigmatization of patients in certain contexts constitutes an unjustifiable human rights abuse, or whether some treatments that patients would deem painful or even abusive can be legitimate in such circumstances. People suffering from leprosy—or Hansen’s disease—have...
Reimagining the Criminal, Reconfiguring Justice
The application of critical analysis to the study of justice and punishment is crucial to understanding, interpreting, and challenging the authoritarianism of state institutions that appear committed to widening the criminal justice net and expanding, exponentially, imprisonment. Indeed, one of the strengths of critical criminology is in the promotion of a criminological imagination that confronts...
Part Three. Representation
“I Hear the Approaching Thunder”: The Lyric Voice and Human Rights
case has been made for silence.
(To write poetry
made his famously
in 1949, barely
years after the killing
camps of the Third Reich were opened
to the world.
One of the aspects of the Nazi genocide that elicits the greatest repulsion...
The Fictional Is Political: Forms of Appeal in Autobiographical Fiction and Poetry
Cathy Caruth has argued that trauma “is always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available.”1 Much of the work in this collection centers on how, and under what conditions, life stories of human rights violation are remembered, told, heard, and recognized and become justiciable. Caruth and others explain, however...
Enter the King: Martin Luther King Jr., “Human Rights Heroism,” and Contemporary American Drama
Human rights awareness-raising and promotion frequently rely on the inspirational life story to engage large audiences and mobilize supporters for campaigning and advocacy. Not surprisingly, the dramatic lives of commanding figures in what Makau Mutua has termed the “grand narrative” of human rights history have proved especially attractive to artists intent on producing portraits...
Témoignage and Responsibility in Photo/Graphic Narratives of Médecins Sans Frontières
Alexandra Schultheis Moore
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (hereafter MSF) emerged in 1971 out of its founders’ (both doctors and journalists) medical aid work on behalf of those caught in the Nigerian civil war and a major flood in what is now Bangladesh. A legacy of its founders, MSF’s distinguishing feature, according to its mission statement, has been its dual commitment to provide medical...
Representing Human Rights Violations in Multimedia Contexts
Katrina M. Powell
To understand the ways in which an individual life can illuminate systemic human rights violations, humanists have placed great value on the ways in which stories are told, represented, and re-presented in various genres. Whether these stories come in the form of interviews, films, memoirs, novels, news articles, or photographs, we feel that they will reveal some sort of truth about human...
Part Four. Justice
Sugar Daddies or Agents for Change? Community Arts Workers and Justice for Girls “Who Just Want to Go to School”
Over the three decades in which I have read and written on life narratives by women, especially those in the Global South, no goal has been asserted more strongly by women writers—from Nafissatou Diallo and Ken Bugul in Senegal to Esmeralda Santiago and Maryse Condé in the Caribbean to the Sangtin collaborative of Playing with Fire in India—than women acquiring the education...
E-witnessing in the Digital Age
Kay Schaffer, Sidonie Smith
Since we published Human Rights and Narrated Lives in 2004, the social and structural environments of human rights campaigns have changed significantly. The major change we take up in this essay concerns the use of technologies and their implications for personal storytelling in human rights campaigns. These technologies, when deployed in the pursuit of social justice, affect every dimension...
“Facebook Is Like a Religion Around Here”: Voices from the “Arab Spring” and the Policy-Making Community
Human rights activist Emin Milli’s view of the role of Facebook in the popular protest movements of our age—that social media is like a religion—provokes an obvious and important question that this essay sets out to explore: if the recent revolts in the Middle East and North Africa were mobilized through open social media, why did no significant actors in the foreign policy-making...
The Importance of Taking and Bearing Witness: Reflections on Twenty Years as a Human Rights Lawyer
For a long time I have been at the center of human rights discourse as a practicing Queen’s Counsel, chairman of the Bar Human Rights Committee, and director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP), the Delfina Foundation, and more recently Beyond Borders, a new Scottish initiative dedicated to small-nation dialogue and international cultural exchange. Yet it is only relatively...
Part Five. Learning
Using Life Narrative to Explore Human Rights Themes in the Classroom
Brian Brivati, Meg Jensen, Margaretta Jolly, Alexandra Schultheis Moore
This volume has explored the interface between life writing and human rights. It will, we hope, encourage further research and collaboration and conversation between these two fields. This connection reflects the coming together of two increasingly defining aspects of our age—the telling of the stories of ourselves and the campaigning for the rights of others. While we can be confident that...
Molly Andrews is a professor of political psychology and the codirector of the Centre for Narrative Research (www.uelac.uk/cnr/index.htm) at the University of East London. Her research interests include the psychological basis of political commitment, psychological challenges posed by societies in transition to democracy, patriotism, conversations between generations, gender and aging, and counternarratives. Her monographs...