The 2010 Asian Regional Sites of Conscience Workshop, held from July 17 – 18, brought together representatives from 12 sites in 9 countries for a dynamic two-day session in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The central themes for this year’s workshop included best practices for gathering and sharing historical memories, techniques for overcoming hurdles in establishing and growing new museums in Asian countries, and developing tools to facilitate program methodology exchange among regional members.
Over the course of the workshop, participants shared details of an impressive array of programs that reach hundreds of thousands of people across the region each year. Representatives from sites in Cambodia, South Korea, China, Pakistan, Nepal, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Bangladesh highlighted their most effective programs, including youth camps and human rights education programs, mobile museum programs, oral history projects, and arts integration programs.
There was an extraordinary level of engagement among workshop participants, a direct reflection of the diversity of experience among the representatives: many were from long-established sites such as Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum—the workshop host and regional coordinator— which has decades of experience from which to draw when sharing tactics and methodology.
Others represented newer initiatives such as Non-Violence International in southern Thailand and South Asian Research and Resource Center in Pakistan, which capitalized on the unique opportunities during the workshop to gather feedback on and support for their programs in development.
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is proud to support annual workshops for members in all of the Coalition’s regions.
How can remembering conflict inspire reconciliation? At the first regional workshop in West Africa, the International Coalition and Center for Good Governance (CGG) brought together participants from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Kenya and Uganda to share how their memorialization efforts build public engagement in Truth and Reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies.
With support from the International Coalition’s Project Support Fund, CGG recently launched a series of public dialogues at Sierra Leone’s Special Court to explore a new vision for this site as the Court’s activities come to a close. As part of the regional workshop, participants observed and analyzed CGG’s dialogue program at the Special Court, identifying opportunities and challenges memory work faces in Sierra Leone.
As another example of memory and reconciliation work, Liberia’s Civic Initiative shared its recent project “WITNESS – REMEMBER – CREATE,” in which Liberians created life-size “body maps” to illustrate their painful memories and spoke openly about this history across diverse perspectives.
As workshop participants presented their various memorialization efforts in the region, they identified common strategies for how to activate places of memory as centers for dialogue and reconciliation in post-conflict democracies. These strategies will be detailed in a collaborative “tool-kit” on post-conflict memorialization to share learnings across the region.
In 2007-08, post-election violence in Kenya claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and exacerbated decades-old divisions and political struggles in Kenyan society. While the peaceful adoption of a new constitution last month promises positive change, issues of violence and injustice from the country’s past linger close to the surface, threatening a new eruption of conflict if left unaddressed. The International Coalition has partnered with PeaceNet Kenya and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission to explore how memorialization can help address these tensions and contribute to healing and reconciliation.
In a 2010 workshop, 22 civil society organizations including the Kenya National Archives, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the National Museum of Kenya discussed the challenges and successes of memorialization efforts. They identified opportunities for sites in Kenya that remember the displacement, violence and abuse endured by thousands to be spaces for new public engagement in today’s efforts for peace and stability.
The workshop coincided with the verdict in a significant torture case: Kenya’s High Court granted compensation for human rights violations against 21 victims of torture at the Nyaya House Torture Chamber during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Survivors gathered at this icon of Kenya’s violent past to celebrate receiving the justice they had sought for so long. The 21 victims petitioned the government to preserve this and other sites to help Kenyans build a peaceful future where such abuses remain a thing of the past.
In March 2010, a first gathering of sites around the world, including EcoPeace/ Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and Bhopal Gas Tragedy Memorial Complex explored the concept of “Environmental Sites of Conscience” at the joint meetings of the National Council of Public History and American Society of Environmental History.
Facilitated by representatives from the Coalition and the U.S. National Park Service, the working group of site directors, environmental education experts, and environmental historians from a variety of countries and contexts engaged in a preliminary discussion on the role of historic sites in addressing environmental issues such as climate change, labor and environmental policies, and water issues.
Learning about programs such as those at Chernobyl in Ukraine and the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park in Vermont, USA which remembers George Marsh’s discovery of the effects of deforestation and his successful campaign for reforestation to restore environmental balance, the group explored how sites that remember human impact on our environment over time – whether positive or negative – can be harnessed to engage people in the environmental issues we face today.
As Guatemala works towards building a Historical Memory Museum, the National Reparations Program (PNR) – a state institution devoted to implementing a reparations program for the victims of Guatemala’s armed conflict (1960-1996) – organized the international seminar: “Museums of Historical Memory” on November 12-13, 2009.
PNR brought together memory initiatives from the Argentina, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Israel, Paraguay, Peru, Russia and the U.S. to share their experiences in building public memory. The International Coalition was invited to share the experiences of Sites of Conscience all over the world in opening dialogue on contested history and contemporary issues.
At the panel “Importance of the global integration of Sites of Conscience,” the Coalition Secretariat and Coalition members Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance, Museum of Memory: Dictatorship and Human Rights Association-Paraguay, Krasnoyarsk Museum Center, and the Tribute WTC Visitor Center discussed how Sites of Conscience can be spaces of building public memory through the entire process of memorialization.
“Museums of Historical Memory” aimed to create a space where students, curators, educators and historians could exchange and discuss about various aspects recovering historical memory through museum projects.
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience participated in the International Seminar: “National and International Experiences of Memory Museums” on November 5-6, 2009 in Chile. The conference was organized by the Chilean Ministry of National Assets in conjunction with FLACSO-Chile and Bix Gabriel, the International Coalition’s Director of Communications participated in a roundtable discussion entitled “Memory and Democracy”.
The Seminar was a valuable forum for established museums and historical sites to share knowledge and experience. It also provided significant resources for community members and local organizations with shared goals of strengthening democracy through the transmission of historical memories. Participants in “National and International Experiences of Memory Museums” ranged from academic experts on themes such as memory and human rights, to those directly involved with the coordination and management of international and local historical sites and museums.
FLACSO-Chile, The Latin American School of Social Sciences, is an academic and research institution dedicated to the development of Latin American and Caribbean countries through the promotion of human rights, equity, democracy and international cooperation.
“How can former sites of detention become spaces for healing, civic engagement and economic development?” This was a central focus of the October 17, 2009 workshop “Preservation of Memory: A Lever for Territorial Development” in Rabat, Morocco, where the International Coalition shared the experiences of Sites of Conscience with Moroccan groups working on memorialization.
Organized by the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Advisory Council on Human Rights, the Moroccan State’s official human rights institution and the National Institute of Urban Development and Planning the workshop brought together NGOs, academics, architects and victims groups like Groupe Bnouhachem. Detained at Agdz, a fort in the south of Morocco that was used as a detention center until 1982, the group presented a model for developing Agdz, which inspired rich discussion on how to develop sites of memory with the involvement of many different stake-holders including victims groups, State entities, local communities and NGOs.
The International Coalition shared examples of how Sites of Conscience in different contexts and different parts of the world developed through the efforts of various actors over time, emphasizing that the process of recovering sites of memory is inherently contentious but Sites of Conscience recognize this challenge and work to create a space where people can grapple with difficult questions – of the past and as new ones arise.
The conversation spurred new learning between memory activists in Morocco and the International Sites of Conscience movement and offered future opportunities for collaboration.
On the occasion of Victims of Political Repressions Remembrance Day in Russia (October 30), the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center hosted “Moments of History,” a workshop on project design and development for representatives from history museums of the Krasnoyarsk Krai (province).
The workshop offered local museum workers the opportunity to share with peers their work in the area of political repression and present how they use their museums to raise public awareness of the history of totalitarianism and engage citizens in addressing threats to Russian democracy today. It included interactive, hands-on classes led by museum experts on project design and offered participants feedback on their presentations.
Workshop participants brought artifacts and archival materials to supplement their individual presentations and many of artifacts formed “Political Repressions: a Gallery of Local Histories”, a collective exhibition culminating from the workshop. “Moments of History” included a public discussion on political repressions in Krasnoyarsk Krai and a visit to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Department of Corrections Muse um located on the site of former prison. With this initiative the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center, as a member of the Russian Sites of Conscience network, , aims to help the local history museums of the Krasnoyarsk Krai use their history to raise public awareness of the history and legacies of totalitarianism.
Corporacion Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi hosted an international meeting on “Memory Processes, Citizenship, and the Recovery of Sites of Conscience” in Santiago on October 15, 2009.
The workshop explored how the approach of Sites of Conscience – using places of memory to engage people in contemporary social justice questions – could be used as a model for building democracy in the Southern Cone as well as around the world.
As a member of the Latin American Sites of Conscience, Villa Grimaldi connects the history of state terrorism, torture and detention with contemporary social concerns to influence the political culture and promote awareness of human rights.
With the conference, Villa Grimaldi offered a forum for debate and exchange on citizen participation in memory initiatives, including relating to the recovery of sites linked to crimes against humanity. Representatives from memory projects in Brazil, Spain and Berlin, along with professionals and students in the field of humanities, social sciences, design and architecture explored the role they can play – as individuals and collectively – in recovering Sites of Conscience.
On August 31, Memoria Abierta hosted a conference ‘Architecture and Memory’ on how the architecture and topography of cities, through streets signs, buildings, squares and houses reveals the suppressed history of state terrorism in Argentina.
The conference was supported by the International Coalition and promoted reflection on how these urban spaces, witnesses of the military dictatorship, can be used today. Participants discussed history and memory in an ever-transforming urban setting. The conference also marked the release of “Memorias en la Ciudad. Señales del Terrorismo de Estado en Buenos Aires” (Memories in the City: Signs of State Terrorism in Buenos Aires), Memoria Abierta’s new book that examines traces of the suppressed history of State Terrorism in Buenos Aires’ 48 neighborhoods, using testimonies, photos and maps.
To promote reflection on the possible use of urban spaces, Memoria Abierta has now bundled the lectures and testimonies presented during ‘Architecture and Memory’ in a booklet, sharing the participants’ experiences with establishing historic sites and their reflections on the difficult history, painful memories and complex relationship victims, survivors and society as a whole has with these places of memory.
From May 18-20, 2009, Memoria Abierta hosted the third Regional Workshop of the Latin American Sites of Conscience in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Members of the Latin American Sites of Conscience Network from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay worked together to identify common practices around their work on Memory, Human Rights, and Democracy, based on the memory of state dictatorships in several Latin American countries. The workshop offered participants a chance to discuss current challenges and work together on concrete strategies and educational programmes to connect the past with the present. Drawing from the rich history of civic engagement and ongoing human rights activism in each country, participating institutions shared their models of civic participation and identified practices that would translate across the current different political realities that they faced in their contexts.
From May 15-18, 2009, the Liberation War Museum hosted the fourth Regional Workshop of the Asian Sites of Conscience in Korea. The workshop was held at the home of the May 18 Foundation, which honors the victims of the May 18, 1980 massacre in Gwangju, Korea, when the military authorities brutally suppressed a citizens’ democratic uprising which killed an estimated 165 people, with another 65 missing and presumed dead. The workshop was held in conjunction with the May 18th Foundation’s annual International Peace Forum, where the Foundation aims to strengthen international solidarity between domestic and foreign activists working for democracy, human rights, and peace. Members of the Asian Sites of Conscience Network from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand participated in the workshop, sharing ideas for how their institutions could develop programmes to foster civic participation in building religious plurality and tolerance.
At a time of rising concern over social exclusion, migration, xenophobia, and discrimination throughout Europe, sites of memory are integral to promoting tolerance and public dialogue on the meanings and practice of citizenship, human rights, and reconciliation.
Recognizing this, from May 14-17, 2009, the International Coalition, in partnership with the House of the Wannsee Conference, hosted the first European Sites of Conscience Workshop to develop a long-term collaboration among European sites of memory committed to working together to using the histories of their sites to actively engage the public in contemporary issues.
Historic sites and museums from a broad range of countries across Europe such as Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland, Norway, and Spain participated in the workshop, focusing on expanding existing programmes or developing new ones. The workshop offered participants a chance to observe and participate in model educational programmes from select sites; discuss current challenges to human rights taking place in each site’s local community; and design individual and joint programmes that use each site’s history to foster new citizen engagement in those challenges.
From October 31 to November 2, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience brought together 19 U.S. and Canadian survivors, community activists, historians, and representatives of site museums – at Haskell Indian Nations University, a former boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas for the first Indian Boarding and Residential Schools Sites of Conscience Workshop. The group gathered to identify how school sites can become new centres for communities to confront the difficult histories of boarding schools and to discuss their diverse legacies today – from substance abuse and domestic violence on the one hand to the creation of national cross-tribal Native American organizations on the other.
Participants addressed how communities can preserve their sites; how those sites can help in other healing efforts; and how communities can be supported in their work. The workshop resulted in a list of pilot collaborative projects, including an exhibit that can travel to former schools across the US and Canada that invites each host community to add photographs and testimonies and open new conversation about today’s legacies of the boarding schools.
From August 8 to 13, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience welcomed museum leaders from across the United States and Belgium at the Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York to launch the Coalition’s new Immigration Sites of Conscience Network. Participants represented 14 museums and historic sites remembering diverse immigration histories in different local contexts, committed to opening new public conversations on the current immigration debate in the United States and Europe. During a week-long seminar, museums from San Diego to Charlotte, visited by a total of 4.5 million people each year, each designed a programme that used their community’s immigration history to provide new perspective on a key immigration conflict or tension—resulting in 14 new public dialogues and spaces for action in 14 communities across the United States and in Belgium.
The group pledged to collaborate on using historical perspective and heritage to open new centres for education and dialogue on today’s immigration issues in order to: stimulate on-going local and national conversations on immigration and its related issues; promote humanitarian and democratic values; and treat all audiences as stakeholders in the immigration dialogue. Participants also outlined specific ways they will work together to help one another succeed individually and shape a new national conversation on immigration.
The seminar has been followed by two regional trainings for front-line museum staff, held at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, to build their skills to implement the programmes designed at the seminar. Participants experienced the host sites’ pilot public dialogue programmes, practiced dialogue facilitation, and exchanged feedback on the design of their own programmes. Programmes at the sites are expected to commence in 2009.
The African Sites of Conscience Network, which focuses on “Using Histories of Citizen Action to Develop Post-Colonial and Post-Conflict Democracies” met from August 12 to 14, 2008 at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting brought together 16 delegates from South Africa, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Senegal under the theme “Promoting Citizenship and Human Rights through Sites of Conscience.” The theme was especially salient as the meeting marked South Africa’s commemoration of National Women’s Day and also took place during a period in which South Africa was grappling with questions of citizenship following the recent spate of xenophobic attacks on immigrants.
The workshop was designed to offer participants models of programs that used places remembering the apartheid struggle to inspire active citizenship for human rights today. For example, participants observed education programmes at Constitution Hill focusing on the historic role of women in the struggle for freedom in South Africa and the gains and challenges that women face today as citizens. The program included discussions with in-school female learners around some of these issues and how they related specifically to the South African constitution, as well as some of the lived realities of being women in a fledgling democracy. In addition, participants observed a programme at the Hector Pietersen Museum in Soweto, which marks the 1976 youth uprising against Apartheid education. The visit included a youth group presenting clips from a documentary they created about the recent xenophobic attacks.
Using these program models as inspiration, participants developed frameworks for dialogue programmes at their own sites, deciding to focus on two critical themes for the region: slavery and post-conflict democracy building.
From August 25 – 27, 2008, the Liberation War Museum, Regional Coordinator of Sites of Conscience in Asia, facilitated the 3rd Asian Sites of Conscience Workshop, in collaboration with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM). Thirty-six representatives from 10 countries attended, including the May 18 Foundation (South Korea), South Asian Research and Resource Center (Pakistan), Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram (India), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (Philippines), Tribhuban University (Nepal), and others. The workshop included a tour of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – an iconic site of torture and imprisonment, known as S-21 during the Khmer Rouge regime – and a discussion on education programs that Tuol Sleng could develop to help young people connect this history with the questions they face today. The site is a central element in the ongoing international trial of senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.
During the workshop, participants shared the ways they use their sites’ histories to address contemporary conflicts in their local contexts; identified opportunities for expansion of the Sites of Conscience movement throughout Asia, including potential sites in Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar, where the need to encourage citizen engagement in building democracy is especially relevant; and through highly visible public events, leveraged media coverage of the workshop to advocate for the Sites of Conscience regional movement and the development of a youth oral history program at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
From July 28-29, 2008, the Gulag Museum at Perm-36, Regional Coordinator of Russian Sites of Conscience facilitated a regional workshop at the Museum directly following their annual Pilorama Festival.
“Pilorama” is a saw-mill used by prisoners in the Stalin-era GULAG camps to carry out difficult labour. One such saw-mill has been preserved at Perm-36. Today, the platform for this historic saw serves as the main stage for a three-day outdoor summer arts festival. The Pilorama festival was developed as a direct response to the significant downturn in civic engagement and threats to democratic freedoms from the late 1980s through today. Pilorama uses a variety of artistic media to explore contemporary civic issues, linking Russia’s history of State totalitarianism to its current government’s policies, and seeks to reinvigorate citizen involvement in social issues through a combination of arts and public dialogue.
Pilorama 2008 attracted more than 2,500 people this year – including local youth, ex-prisoners, and descendants of former camp guards – an increase of over 300% from last year’s event. The festival themes for this year were the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet dissident movement after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. These themes were used to encourage civic responsibility and action through 12 different dialogue programs among Pilorama attendees.
Following the festival, participants in the workshop hosted dialogues with members of the public on the issues raised by the event, particularly about the role of average citizens in addressing ongoing State repression.
Additionally, participants outlined the challenges and opportunities they face in including information and dialogue about state repression at their sites, and how the Regional Network could help them address those challenges. They discussed at length the political barriers to including programming about State repression and developed strategies to overcome them, including: integrating training on addressing political repression and facilitating difficult dialogue into training on professional museology techniques, establishing these practices as part of the standards of modern museology, as legitimized by the International Coalition and other museum standard-bearers.
The Gulag Museum at Perm-36 will launch a school of museology both to provide a space for more intensive trainings, and to legitimize the work of the Regional Network in the eyes of local authorities. The school will provide two-week trainings for museum professionals in current museology standards, incorporating human rights and civic engagement experts as well as representatives of the International Council on Museums (ICOM).
Participants in the workshop included representatives from: Berezniki Municipal Museum (Perm, Russia), Cherdyn Municipal Museum (Perm, Russia), Iliinsk Municipal Museum (Perm, Russia), Komi-Permyak Municipal Museum (Perm, Russia), Krasnoyarsk Museum Center (Krasnoyarsk, Russia), Kungur Municipal Museum (Perm, Russia), Mednoe Memorial Complex (Tver, Russia), Museum of Collectivization (Yekaterinberg, Russia), Museum of History of Political Repression (Tomsk, Russia), NKVD Headquarters for the Gulag of the Kolyma District (Kolyma, Russia), Solicamsk Municiple Museum (Perm, Russia) and Virtual Gulag Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia).
Many Latin Americans deny their recent history, refusing to acknowledge the events that took place during periods of state terrorism. Yet, immersed in a rich history of civic engagement and ongoing human rights activism, memory initiatives throughout the Southern Cone are determined to recognize and remember the events that have profoundly shaped their communities. 16 such organizations came together from June 9-11, 2008 in Buenos Aires for the second Latin American Sites of Conscience workshop on “Transmission of Memory and Political Culture”, hosted by Memoria Abierta, the Coalition’s Latin American Regional Coordinator.
Memoria Abierta, a coordinated action of Argentine human rights organizations, promotes knowledge, social awareness, and the memory of state terrorism in Latin America. By organizing workshops, trainings, and site visits Memoria Abierta helps Latin American places of memory identify and archive historical records and artifacts related to state terrorism and use them to engage the public in dialogue and understanding around state terrorism and human rights.
At the recent workshop, memory activists from diverse political and institutional contexts presented and evaluated one another’s educational programs and identified the next steps for the coming year of Sites of Conscience activities in Latin America. Despite their different histories and current political contexts, participants found that they shared similar challenges in their efforts to engage youth and the larger public in the history of state repression in their community and its contemporary legacies. To address these challenges, participants also strategized on how the Latin American Regional Coordinator could best meet their needs in the coming year, such as supporting efforts to develop their own archives.
Participants that have already become Institutional Members of the Coalition also worked in a special session to explore joint projects and staff exchanges that they may submit to the Coalition for support, which would enable them to develop their work in engaging the public in dialogue and action on human rights issues.
Participating institutions included: Asociación Civil Hijos de una Misma Historia (Mar del Plata, Argentina), Archivo Provincial por la Memoria de Córdoba (Córdoba, Argentina), Casa por la Memoria y la Cultura Popular (Mendoza, Argentina), Colectivo Londres 38 (Santiago, Chile), Comisión de Consenso y Trabajo del CCD “El Olimpo” (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Comisión de familiares, sobrevivientes y compañeros de las víctimas de los centros clandestinos de detención El Vesubio y Protobanco (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Comisión Provincial por la Memoria (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Corporación Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi (Santiago, Chile), Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos y Asesinados por Razones Políticas del Paraguay (Asunsión, Paraguay), Instituto de Diálogo y Propuestas (Lima, Perú), Museo de la Memoria (Montevideo, Uruguay), Museo de la Memoria (Rosario, Argentina), Museo de las Memorias: Dictaduras y Derechos Humanos (Asunsión, Paraguay), Paz y Esperanza (Ayacucho, Perú), Proyecto de Extensión de Interés Social “Memoria e Historia del Pasado Reciente, Problemas didácticos y disciplinares” de la Universidad Nacional del Litoral y la Asociación del Magisterio de la Santa Fe – AMSAFE (Santa Fe, Argentina), and Subsecretaría de Derechos Humanos de Chubut (Chubut, Argentina).