On Tuesday, December 13th 2016, the 2016 Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA) Fellows presented the projects that they developed while at Columbia University. The AHDA Fellowship allows participants to come to spend the fall semester of the academic year at Columbia University in New York City. This comprehensive program provides fellows with the opportunity to hone practical skills in fundraising, advocacy and leadership; to develop a deeper understanding of and engagement with the past; and to foster mutually beneficial relationships with their peers and with international and non-profit organizations based in New York and Washington, D.C.
The fellows Conference was organized into four panels, with three fellows on each panel. Fellows presented the background of their projects, the conflict histories of their countries of origins, the theoretical underpinnings of their projects, and the status, challenges, and next steps of their projects.
Bonita Bennett (pictured center), an AHDA fellow from South Africa, presented her project called “Voices on the Landscape”, a project of the District Six Museum in Capetown. During her time at Columbia, she worked on developing a regulatory framework for the next phase of the museum’s life: bringing the museum’s work beyond the walls of the museum to engage in dialogues about national heritage and the state. Fundamentally, the project seeks to explore how human rights policies can be translated to grass roots endeavors that remember District Six’s distinct role under apartheid, and consider its future role in dealing with the past. To this end, Bonita told the story of District Six, and how it used to be a vibrant, diverse neighborhood, filled with immigrants, indigenous people, fisherman, dock workers, with members of different religious and economic communities. During the Apartheid era, 60,000 people were forcibly removed to townships, and the land was left largely untouched. The museum is advocating for District Six to become a national historical site, to facilitate more meaningful interactions with the landscape, and to engage public participation in the process of restitution and national reconciliation.
AHDA fellow Marijana Toma, from the Western Balkans, also presented on her work. The objective of her project was to explore the legal mechanisms and documentation of genocide and mass atrocity in the Western Balkans, and to consider the shortcomings of transitional justice mechanisms that have largely ignored history education as a means for dealing with the past. Marijana’s AHDA project seeks to develop formal and informal educational resources that enable students from different ethnic communities in the Balkans to reconsider their pasts, to de-mythologize the experience of their communities, and that develop a sense of empathy and shared narrative with members of other communities who also suffered during the break up of the former Yugoslavia.
In the afternoon, Simon Kaneneka from the DRC discussed his project, Baraza, which aims to create a forum for victims of sexual violence, former combatants and perpetrators to discuss past violence. By empowering these different communities with skills and tools to work in their communities, Simon is working to heal societies so they can move forward as a community. In his presentation Simon recognized that cooperation may not mean intimate friendship, but rather a means to “develop a degree of cooperation so people can live together better than they can live separately”.
The rest of the 2016 AHDA fellows that presented on their fascinating individual historical dialogue projects include: Javeed Ul Aziz, Velma Saric, Benji de la Piedra, Mariam Aboughazi, Elena Monicelli, Maria Jose Kahn Silva, Natalia Petrova, Miraji Maira, and Louisa Slavkova.
The AHDA fellowship is designed for lawyers, journalists, teachers, social workers, community organizers, artists, scholars and other human rights activists working on issues related to dealing with the past such as: transitional justice, historical dialogue, memory studies, historical justice, oral history, history education.
The fellowship application period for 2017 is now open. Click here to learn how to apply.
Written by Stephanie Ullrich