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Forgiving as part of the process of healing memory

Thursday, 12. July 2012

(Photo: Louisa Meury)Can memory be healed? This was the question of the morning panel on Thursday, 12 July during the Caux Forum for Human Security. Jackie Huggins, Daphrose Barampama and Janet Jerulo discussed the subject of healing memory with a particular focus on forgiveness.

Jackie Huggins is an Aboriginal Australian, who was part of a reconciliation committee that aimed to create cohesion between Aboriginals and white Australians. Daphrose Barampama is of Burundian origin, living in Switzerland and works on the reconciliation of her people after the genocide in Burundi. Janet Jerulo is a Human Rights lawyer who was involved in the post-electoral tumults in Kenya and the reconciliation afterwards.

‘Memory is notoriously unreliable,’ said Jackie Huggins. In her opinion we have collective memories, which can consist in dances, arts, but also in the shared sense of loss and redemption. But memory is always related to the present, and therefore it is always changing. This is the origin of our obsession with the fear of the forgotten as well as with authenticity. To understand where we are going, we first must look behind. Thus, if a government apologises, they create a new point of reference, which enables people to move forward. 'Once people own the truths within their hearts, we can have the real conversations.'

Her mother always told her, ‘don’t you ever hate even white people, because that means that you hate yourself’. It took a long time until she would understand that: in the reconciliation committee she finally learned to forgive. ‘When you forgive, you evolve as a human being’, she sais. She still carries anger, though, which she considers being positive, because anger can be constructive.

Daphrose Barampama from Burundi emphasized the fact that forgiveness is a process. In fact, when she decided to go back to Burundi to conduct ‘peace circles’ she thought that she had forgiven. But packing her suitcase she realized that she was afraid to face those people in Burundi. Later she learned that the people she was going to meet were scared as well. The ‘peace circles’, uniting victims and aggressors in communication creating community, provided the capacities to overcome the dividing hatred and anger. One participant told her ‚I am so relieved to know that you will come back and free us from what lies so heavy on our hearts.’

According to Janet, forgiveness is important in the process of healing. ‘Only if you forgive, you see the other person as equal.’ For instance, there is a girl whose father and brother were killed by their neighbours in the post-electoral tumults in Kenya. She chose to forgive, and become active in the reconciliation process. Now she has created so much trust, that perpetrators address themselves to her when they want to talk and become involved with reconciliation. She thinks that an apology following the Australian example would have made a huge difference in Kenya. ‘An apology can change a society,’ she notes.

Someone in the audience pointed out that politics and law are only the tip of the iceberg. Reconciliation needs to exist on spiritual and cultural levels. Otherwise it lacks foundation. Jackie Huggins approved and noted that this comes back to what Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister said the day before in his speech at Caux: ‘Yes, politics need to take place, but politicians come and go’. It was generally agreed that an active civil society is needed, willing to become involved with the process of forgiving and reconciliation, a process which will endure longer than an electoral period, a process which will be more sustainable than the politics that occur during one electoral period.

Listen to Daphrose Barampama's speech (in French).