Experts on truth commissions come together

The Law School and the Artemis Project Student Initiative — which aims to establish a central archive to compile and preserve the copies of the records of truth commissions — brought together high-level truth commission staff from around the world to participate in a three-day conference at Yale this week.

The conference, which began Wednesday and will end today, has included lectures, panels and round-table discussions examining the issues associated with archiving materials compiled during truth commissions, which are investigations of large-scale human rights violations during periods of political transition. Organizers said the meetings, sponsored by the International Center for Transitional Justice, will give APSI members a chance to seek advice about the intended creation of a Yale-based archive.

Former Acting U.S. Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson, who gave the keynote address on Wednesday, said the goal of the conference is to facilitate a dialogue between truth commission workers in the field, to allow them to share practical information and learn from their colleagues’ successes and failures.

“It’s the first time that I know of that truth commissions from around the world have sat down and thought about their documentary legacies,” she said. “People have been enormously candid, and that has been very useful.”

APSI leader Zvika Krieger ’06 said truth commission records, which are based primarily on victims’ accounts but also include police reports and physical evidence, are important not only in terms of history and research, but also reconciliation.

“The whole point of a truth commission is to empower victims and have their voices heard,” he said. “The overarching problem is what to do with these materials after the commissions are done.”

Conference participants include truth commission and archival workers from El Salvador, South Africa, Guatemala, Peru, Sierra Leone and the United States, in addition to members of the ICTJ and the University’s faculty and library and archival staff. The conference is a part of the ICTJ Managing Truth Commissions series.

On Wednesday, participants discussed a number of topics ranging from confidentiality and security concerns to financial challenges and accessibility of truth commission documentation, and today the conference will focus on the future plans of the Artemis Project at Yale. Participants will share thoughts and advice on the organization’s work before meeting with students in a political science seminar on truth commissions, “Individual Reading: Truth Commissions,” a new class taught by a number of distinguished Yale faculty and arranged by the APSI.

Seminar member Stephanie Brockman ’08 said listening to experts from the field discuss their work has put much of her reading this semester into context.

“I’m a little starstruck,” she said. “To see the commissions at work and to read their final reports and then have the opportunity to hear the personal input of someone who was there is quite the experience.”

The Artemis Project was established in honor of a Yale student, Artemis Christodulou ’00 GRD ’02, who remains in a coma after suffering a car accident in Sierra Leone in 2004 while working on a truth commission, APSI coordinator Jessica Heyman ’07 said. Before leaving for Sierra Leone, Christodulou had envisioned a central archive to house copies of reports from more than two dozen truth commissions that have been undertaken around the world, and professors and students at Yale founded the Artemis Project to turn her vision into a reality, Heyman said.

Heyman said the Artemis Project appeals to many undergraduate and graduate students because it deals proactively with such topics as human rights law, transitional justice and post-conflict studies. She said project members hope to use this opportunity to get both the advice and approval of truth commission workers and to formulate plans for the upcoming years.

“Our goals are basically to get a good sense of where the international truth commission community stands on the issue of archives … as well as an endorsement of what we want to do,” Heyman said.

In March, the APSI, along with the Yale Globalist Foundation, will host another conference on the role of journalism in truth commissions.

Comments