Memorialization is a universal need for both those being memorialized and those who are grieving. Although historically it was limited to the elite and only practiced in the highest societal classes, it is now almost considered a fundamental human right for all people.
Memorialization and Transitional Justice
In the context of transitional justice, memorialization is used to honor the victims of human rights abuses. Memorials can help governments reconcile tensions with victims by demonstrating respect and acknowledging the past. They can also help to establish a record of history, and to prevent the recurrence of abuse.
Memorials are also a form of reparations, or compensation efforts that seek to address past human rights violations. They aim to provide compensation for losses endured by victims of abuse, and remedy prior wrongdoing. They also publicly recognize that victims are entitled to redress and respect. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation recognizes “commemorations and tributes to the victims” as a form of reparation.
There are numerous types of memorials used as transitional justice initiatives. These include architectural memorials, museums, and other commemorative events. For instance, in northern Uganda, monuments, annual prayer ceremonies, and a mass grave were created in response to the war conducted by and against the Lord’s Resistance Army there.
Memorialization can arouse controversy and present certain risks. In unstable political situations, memorials may increase desire for revenge and catalyze further violence. They are highly politicized processes that represent the will of those in power. They are thus difficult to shape, and international relief workers, peacekeepers, and NGOs risk being drawn into disputes about the creation or maintenance of memorial sites. Yet they also have the potential to redress historical grievances and enable societies to progress.
Guy Beiner has introduced a concept of decommemorating in reference to hostility towards acts of commemoration that can result in violent assaults and in iconoclastic defacement or destruction of monuments. Beiner's studies suggest that rather than stamping out memorialization, decommemorating can paradoxically, function as a form of ambiguous remembrance, sustaining interest in controversial memorials. Destruction of monuments can also trigger renewed acts of memorialization (which Beiner labelled "re-commemorating").
Tobie S. Meyer-Fong. What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013). ISBN9780804754255. A study of the Taiping rebellion in mid 19th century China: its victims, their experience of the war, and the memorialization of the war.
^Buckley-Zistel, S. / Schäfer, S. (eds.) (2014). Memorials in Times of Transition. Antwerp: Intersentia. ISBN9781780682112.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)