Abena Ampofoa Asare, recent author of the book Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana, lectured on African institutions’ use of victims’ voices as an attempt to heal past injustices on Tuesday.
Asare was the final lecturer brought in for the “New Directions in African and African Diaspora Lecture Series” sponsored by The African and African Diaspora Studies Program.
Asare outlined the shortcomings within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC)—one of the legislative bodies that was put in charge of establishing a historical record of human rights violations—mandate that justice is possible if victims are simply given a space to voice their experience with state-sanctioned violence. She addressed the TRC’s abundant archives of first-hand victim experiences and the benefits to such resources, but said that archives like those must be looked at with the additional context of their complicity.
“[The] TRC asks for statements and hold public hearings where those who have suffered speak in the earshot of those who have caused the harm,” Asare said. “Now the expectation was that a response and justice would follow, but these are profoundly optimistic institutions.”
The platforms provided by the TRC for victims to voice their strife to those who instigated such abuse, according to Asare, were staged acts by politicians for global consumption. She emphasized that though victims’ voices have power within themselves—they do not serve as automatic agents of change.
Asare’s main point of her presentation was to show how the three social identities of victim, citizen, and expert can be combined and used productively to initiate progress and make true reconciliation for past injustices a possibility. She took on the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) of Ghana—another legislative body with a similar goal—and its ability to see how those who suffered as victims are the most educated on state issues that were the root cause of their strife.
“The survivors of human rights abuse show themselves to be citizens who have roots in a national and global context and experts who hold specialized information that can move the country forward,” Asare said. “The bringing together of these three social identities in a way in which we rarely see in Ghana or elsewhere around the world is at the heart of my analysis of what makes the NRC significant.”
Asare also reflected on the conflict she experienced when writing her book and the broader difficulties that exist when taking on the role of documenting black history. She talked about the struggle of holding onto humanity when reading and looking into the stories of human rights violations that are prominent throughout black history.
“This was a question that I posed to myself,” Asare said. “Why do you want to tell sad stories? There is so much beauty, so much triumph, and it seems that the world only wants to hear the same old story about African atrocities. It opens up into a more broad question about the images of black life that persist within the public sphere and how these images propel us toward or restrict us from from freedom.”
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor