This sentence summarizes the work of Canadian researcher Erin Baines with people who have been victims of violence in different places in the world, especially in Uganda, where they live with former combatants in the same communities and they are slowly setting a precedent of repair and transformative memory.
During the Transformative Memory Summit carried out at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal), Ivan Head South-North Chair (supported by the International Development Research Centre – Canada) researcher and associate professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia Erin Baines, spoke to UN Periódico Digital.
Read more: Posters that speak-out for victims of violence (in Spanish).
“I come from Canada, I live in a country that was built on violence and genocide, stealing lands from natives and that after hundreds of years still has the same laws and same policies which deny the land and continue to rape and exclude. In Canada currently, there is a growing Indian resurgence and reclaiming, while in Uganda there is a large return of people to the rural areas, where they all share the space, both victims and victimizers,” said Baines.
Two cases join with a third, Colombia, a country that struggles to build and reshape a 50-year armed conflict memory, that although has concluded with the signing of a peace agreement with terrorist group FARC, continues to cause harm through dissident groups and alternative guerillas.
UN Periódico Digital (UNPD): Taking memory construction into consideration, how can we approach matters such as death, pain, and forced displacement and turn it into something enduring and contribute to its history and that of Colombia?
Erin Baines (EB): For those you have been victims of pain there is no option of forgetfulness but remembrance and have memory practices, taking care of the dead, fight for limited lands; these practices transform and make you have hope for yourself and your children and also make you feel you are still connected with someone and something. When victims remember and look for acknowledgment, they ask people to listen to them and open spaces to people who are not victims to take these spaces and listen. Only when there is respectful conversation you can open your mind and only in that matter a country may be transformed. It’s not easy because on one side victims do not have another option and others can choose not to listen to the stories, not remembering is one of the ways to survive the conflict, of how we can all live together. Without history, we will then repeat the same mistakes.
Read more: 20 years from a violence milestone.
UNPD: Your most recent research queries the role of parents of children that were born during the conflict. Please tell us how you undertook this research and what your main takeaways were.
EB: This collaborative research project was carried out with Ugandan former combatants. Many of them were abducted and forced to be soldiers when they were very young, or forced to be wives of fighters of the northern resistance group. The research began 10 years ago with women who had been abducted and had children with former fighters and the experiences that endured. Ten years later, some have never spoken about what had happened as there was no gathering of information. During this process of working for so many years, questions on justice came: What type of justice or demand can be required from the government and to those men that kidnapped them and now live in the same community.
The answers were surprising: They said every man was different, some commanders were very cruel and they wanted them to pay for their crimes, but also some other commanders had been kind and were perceived as good people. Inclusively many women asked us to look for men as many were suffering and they knew they would be stigmatized when they returned to their communities.
Many men that returned were not allowed to see their children and for them it was the hardest and most painful part as they fought for more than 10 years, they lost their childhood and being part of a family. They worried about having now 30 or 40 years of age and not being able to complete a family generation.
“When many turned into fathers they wanted to leave the war and take care of their children. Many were allowed to go home saying: Please go first and then I’ll leave later”.
UNPD: How did they rebuild their lives and reinvent themselves in a war context?
EB: Many returned home but were not allowed to see their children, as mothers and human rights organizations called them perpetrators and rapists, as many of them raped these women–which was true– but the dependence relationship between victimizers and victims changed very much when they began to depend and protect amongst themselves and live together during the war. Inclusively some women had good relations with the fighters and also wanted the men to become responsible for their children.
This research is important because people spoke a lot over the children born during the war and the relationship with the mothers; almost always men are considered perpetrators or rapists and nobody wants a relationship with these men for this reason and it is not considered as a possibility and with this, we see this could be a possibility for Uganda and could be in other countries, it is the other side of history.
UNPD: With this experience in Uganda, how can a repair policy be posed after the war?
EB: Although there is a promise of repair in Uganda from the government, it never came to fruition and many victims ended up dying. There are different ways to repair, sometimes simply showing acknowledgment of the harm done during the war. In the case of Uganda, we’ve seen cases where the perpetrator helps the victim rebuild a home, because when there is no government, what do people do? Wait or forgive?
Unfortunately, it depends on the victims; they have to do the entire reparation without the government telling the truth. They have to build memory in a different form, some people deny forgetting, others make it public demanding the government, but in most cases reparation is intimate and has its own space for personal memory.
*Erin Baines has worked since 2004 in collaboration with the Justice and Reconciliation Project and the Women’s Defense Network in the north of Uganda documenting and promoting different approaches over justice and social reparation focused on survivors. Baines is the main researcher of the Paternity and Forced Marriage Project (supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, SSHRC); co-researcher of Conjugal Slavery in War (SSHRC) and main co-researcher of the Transformative Memory project. She is also co-leader of the Memory and Justice Research area at the University of British Columbia.
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