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Trauma

Overcoming past traumas to build a stable future

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. Photo by Adam Carr, February 2005.

If your child is murdered or your friend is tortured or someone tries to kill you, it is tough to forgive and forget.   Animosities that spring from these kinds of brutality run deep. Yet moving on emotionally and psychologically is an important part of rebuilding society after the trauma of conflict and violence.

 Different societies deal with these things in different ways. This week Hilary Clinton visited a former prison in Cambodia where thousands were held before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields. She urged the authorities to proceed with trials of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge so that the country can ‘confront its past’.

This followed the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen that there would be no more prosecutions after the trials of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders already charged.  The prime minister says the country needs to bury the past. Ms. Clinton argues that a country that is unable to confront its past is a country that cannot overcome it.

 

The same day, there was another story describing how East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta plans to free Gastao Salsinha, the former rebel who shot and badly wounded him in 2008. The UN Secretary General, rights groups, and the opposition have reacted to the decision with dismay, saying it will undermine the rule of law.

 

For President Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, it is about mercy and reconciliation. With internal tensions still strong in his impoverished Asian nation, he believes offering clemency is an opportunity to consolidate peace and stability which outweighs arguments for punitive justice.

 

Is there a right approach to this thorniest of post-conflict problems? Research for the WDR finds that over the last three decades almost 40 countries have implemented various measures to redress serious human rights abuses.

 

Day trip to Dachau

Nicholas van Praag's picture

I was in Mozambique last week trying to work out how to dodge the volcanic ash and get back to Washington DC. Checking my itinerary on-line, the system advised me that I could use my stopover in Munich to visit Dachau concentration camp.

Was this for real? A day trip to one of the most horrendous killing grounds of the twentieth century (alternative suggestions were a boat ride on the Danube and a tour of Munich’s beer gardens).

Screenshot of the website showing a menu of activities available in Munich.