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Historical and memorial narratives in divided societies: history textbooks, memorials and museums (2013)

Geneva, Place des Nations, Memorial for Srebrenica ©
Geneva, Place des Nations, Memorial for Srebrenica

The Special Rapporteur has decided to devote two consecutive reports to the issue of historical and memorial narratives in divided societies, relating to a) history textbooks and b) memorials and museums, in particular history museums, that will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2013 and the Human Rights Council in March 2014, respectively.

- Report on the writing and teaching of history (A/68/296)

In this report, the Special Rapporteur considers the issue of the writing and teaching of history, with a particular focus on history textbooks. The importance of historical narratives as cultural heritage and collective identity has been evident in all country visits undertaken by the Special Rapporteur, with people striving to retrieve, validate, make known and have acknowledged by others their own history on the one hand and contesting interpretations on the other. Other aspects relating to history have also been stressed, including that of certain groups being excluded from or portrayed negatively in history teaching. The Special Rapporteur therefore seeks to identify the circumstances under which the official historical narrative promoted by the State in schools becomes problematic from the perspective of human rights and peace, in addition to proposing a set of recommendations to ensure a multiperspective approach in history teaching.

- Report on memorialization processes (A/HRC/25/49)

In this report, the Special Rapporteur addresses memorialization processes of the events of the past in post-conflict and divided societies, with a specific focus on memorials and museums of history/memory. States exiting conflicts or periods of repression are increasingly propelled to engage in active memorial policies as a means of ensuring recognition for the victims, as reparation for mass or grave violations of human rights and as a guarantee of non-recurrence. The Special Rapporteur stresses the significance of actions in the cultural field for achieving the overall societal goals of transitional justice, while noting that entire cultural and symbolic landscapes are designed through memorials and museums, which both reflect and shape, negatively or positively, social interactions and people’s cognition of identities – their own as well as that of others. Addressing some difficult challenges encountered in memorializing the past, the Special Rapporteur makes a number of recommendations grounded in the principle that memorialization should be understood as a process that provides to those affected by human rights violations the spaces necessary to articulate their narratives. Memorial practices should stimulate and promote civic engagement, critical thinking and discussion regarding the representation of the past, but equally the contemporary challenges of exclusion and violence.


Participants of Consultation in Northern Ireland, 1, 2 and 3 July 2013 ©
Participants of Consultation in Northern Ireland, 1,
2 and 3 July 2013

Consultation organized by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) in association with the University of Ulster and in cooperation with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Derry / Londonderry, 1, 2 and 3 July 2013, Northern Ireland, UK. Cultural rights in divided and post-conflict societies

- See the report of the Northern Ireland Commission on Human Rights, A/HRC/25/NI/5

Seminar organized by the Special Rapporteur, in cooperation with the Research team PIMPA (Memory Politics and Art Practices), CCC Research-Based MA Programme of Haute école d'art et de design – Geneva (HEAD), 7 and 8 October 2013.

Art and memory after war, Public debate on 7 October 2013 with the Special Rapporteur and artist Milica Tomic, Geneva.

Whose history?, Side event in New York, 25 October 2013

Mural, Derry / Londonderry, Northern Ireland ©
Mural, Derry / Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Open consultation, 5 July 2013, Geneva

Other documents

Human Rights Council held panel on history and memory on 9 September 2014
In resolution 25/19 adopted on 28 March 2014, the Human Rights Council decided to hold, at its twenty-seventh session (9 September 2014), a panel discussion on history teaching and memorialization processes, with a view to, inter alia, contributing to the sharing of good practices in this area.
For more information, click here ...

Summary of panel discussion on history teaching and memorialization processes (A/HRC/28/36).

Thematic debate at the Security Council, War, its lessons, and the search for a permanent peace. 2014:

  1. Letter from the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General
  2. Summary record

OHCHR Publication on Transitional Justice and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (English only. Other linguistic versions soon available)

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