Conference report I: Witnessing to Hope, 13-20th August 2000, Caux, Switzerland

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Healing the wounds of history

How do we heal the wounds of history?
How can we restore the dignity of victims and victimisers?
Some choose to put a lid on the sufferings of the past. Others use them to inflame hatred for a political or religious cause. Both approaches compromise the future.

As one participant expressed it: "The past will stand there in our memories with all its scars and wounds. Reconciliation, however, can take away the contaminating power of the past, its haunting presence, the devastating restlessness of people that have not found peace."
For many individuals and nations, however, injustice and oppression are not matters of the past. They continue to degrade their dignity today.
How can justice be achieved? Is a process of forgiveness possible? It requires a willingness to enter areas of great pain in our own and other people's lives.
This conference which gathered more than 500 people from 68 different nations made this evident. Participants came from countries such as Rwanda, Lebanon, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Bosnia, which have recently emerged from traumatic civil wars. Others came from countries and regions still locked in conflict, like the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Israel and Palestine.
This report looks at some examples given at the conference of trust being built between adversaries, and the meaning of forgiveness and its relationship to justice. It discusses the role of religion, and witnesses to hope without denying the brutal reality in which far too many people and countries continue to live.
The Editor

"Even if different cultures express pain differently, suffering is universal and is caused everywhere by the same ills. The struggle for respect of human rights is also universal and cultural differences should not be a decisive factor in that struggle."
Dr Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the Swiss Foundation of Moral Re-Armament and former President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the opening plenary.

"Pain has no creed or citizenship. No matter how deep the wound is, there is always a remedy, if we hear with our hearts."
Samer Abu Ghazaleh, Gaza, Palestine

"Forgiving is not forgetting. It is not excusing or diminishing a wrong that has been committed. It does not absolve people from the consequences of their actions. It is not surrendering the right to justice."
Journalist Michael Henderson, UK, author of the book Forgiveness, Breaking the Chain of Hate

"Forgiveness is the power to break the chains that bind us to past actions."
Author and sociologist Hannah Arendt

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