A COURT OF CREATION

What has become almost a given in the history of crimes against humanity is the seeming inevitability of it all.  There is, in fact, so much of it that it sometimes takes an effort to be shocked anew.

But the right to claim oneself a survivor in a court of law: that is not at all self-evident.

It is not enough just to say on this day or in this place such a thing happened to me.

It needs to be recorded – in the language of the court with its insistence on dates and numbers and precision.  Despite the blindfold, you must locate where your victimization took place for it to become legitimate, verified, recognized as truth.

At stake is not only who holds claim to recognition as a victim but who holds claim to history. Where can historical certainty be established with so much time gone before a crime is tried before a court, or if it is indeed tried at all? That is not to be glossed over.  Are the victims still the same people? Is the accused? What about the crime?

A person might once be called a guard and, then again, a victim. The accused might claim both positions, at once admitting guilt but also denying it.  Thus, among all the alleged facts, the one that still remains most in doubt is who is to blame? Who acted and who was acted upon?

In international criminal law, the charges are indeed set, the internal rules formulated, but this is still new ground.  If truth is an interpretation, then crimes committed against women during wartime are the most subject to it. Consider a document created by the for the record; What language might be used to describe a rape? What word would be used to nullify a violation?

Rarely is there the exacting proof required by the courts to show a crime of this kind.  But there are stories. It could be argued that a story, even with all its value belongs elsewhere, not in court, that a story can never be told the same way twice.  It is part of another tradition. Its language is not the language of fact.

The culmination of this is a legacy of testimony that is also tentative and negotiated. It forms part of the collective understanding about what merits debate, and what is true.

RAZEDEARTH is a site that looks at the international courts, special tribunals and truth commissions on issues related to crimes against women during wartime.  It brings together transcripts and other kinds of testimony to see if and how such crimes are prosecuted and reparations made.  The effects on identity for children born of wartime sexual assaults and political and social responses to women survivors are also a part of the research.

Contact Tracey Woodson.

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