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Historical truth as a tool for decolonisation

The new episode of the Justice Visions podcast is last episode of the miniseries on historical truth-seeking initiatives in the (post-)colonial state. Recently, Europe has experienced a boom of state-led and informal initiatives to address the legacies of the colonial past and its enduring harms in the present. In this episode we zoom out from the particular truth initiatives in European countries, to discuss some of the overarching topics and themes crossing across the episodes of this series.  

Our guest is Dr Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa, an assistant Professor in Human Rights and Politics at the London School of Economics. We talk about the capacities of historical truth-seeking initiatives to contribute to the decolonisation project, accountability, and ultimately contribute to social change. As Olivia highlights, despite the formal decolonisation processes, “there is a continuity in colonial violence that’s embedded in many of our institutions”. The change that we should be aspire for is one that tackles the colonial status quo and dismantles colonial power dynamics.  

One of the central questions of our conversation is how historical truth can contribute to the decolonial project? Olivia stresses the need to framing historical truth initiatives within a decolonising strategy or approach. This would mean questioning the points of origin assigned to the history we are transmitting; questions of silencing and desilencing. Who gets to speak and who is systematically silenced? The decolonial approach is very much about the explicit in Olivia’s perspective, “about the extent to which you see your project either contributing to the status quo or actively be against it”.  

With the increased use of the transitional justice framework to think about historical injustice, Olivia argues that the question is not whether transitional justice “is the right thing or not”, but rather is about “the meaning that we give to it and how vigilant we are in how the language and the practises of it contribute to the status quo or not”.

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