Memory and Transitional Justice

Transcript of talk by Ruki Fernando at seminar on ‘The Right to Memory’ at the Jaffna Public Library, on 10th May 2015 (slightly edited for a written format with no changes to substance)
In my presentation I’m going to use a lot of photographs, but very few have been taken by me. Some have been taken by my friends, others by unknown photographers. I want to thank them all.

People try to remember in various ways, and family photographs are one simple way of preserving memory. These photographs are owned by two Tamil families in Vanni, in the North of Sri Lanka, and are their way to try to keep the memory of their family members who were killed in the last stage of the Sri Lankan Civil War. In the Northern province, I have seen such photographs in many of the houses I have visited.

When we talk of memory we are talking about very deeply personal tragedies, yet the topic has unfortunately become immensely political. This is why we have terms like ‘the politics of memory’, and why memory has also become the subject of academic research and discussions. Throughout all this, it is worth remembering that memory is essentially very, very personal.

It must be noted that the right to memory is just one component of the Transitional Justice process, when we look at it in perspective of rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-occurrence.

In this talk, I will share some experiences from Sri Lanka in general; experiences of obstructions in Sri Lanka in the recent past; some thoughts about tourism and memory; about whether we are commemorating heroes or villains, or whether there are blurred lines between the two; and some concluding remarks, reflections, and questions.

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