A collection of essays available in a free e-book examine the significance of Argentina’s “Never Again” report, which documented abuses committed by the security forces during Argentina’s military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
The e-book, “Commissioning Truths: Essays on the 30th Anniversary of Nunca Más,” came out of a year-long critical examination of the history and practice of truth commissions in Argentina and elsewhere.
Hosted at Duke University and cosponsored by the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, the series sought to recognize the importance of “Never Again” while at the same time examining truth in a human rights context.
The e-book, published Sept. 20, is available free through Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/666792) and as a downloadable PDF on the Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute website (http://humanrights.fhi.duke.edu/new-e-book-examines-legacy-of-argentinas-never-again-report/).
“Never Again,” released on Sept. 20, 1984, drew on more than 50,000 pages collected by researchers who traveled across Argentina and the world to interview survivors and collect evidence.
“For scholars of contemporary accountability, ‘Never Again’ is the moment when the search for truth became a fundamental part of creating more stable, functioning democracies,” said Robin Kirk, editor of the collection and co-director of the center. “Since, countries have been inspired by this model to investigate the abuses of the past and create real accountability, including trials, truth commissions and reparations that include monetary compensation as well as museums, memorials and even educational curricula.”
“Never again” dramatically reasserted the power of truth, Kirk said, in this case through fact-collection and eyewitness testimonies of the killings and torture that largely took place in secret. Prior to 1974, the only other influential example of accountability were the Allied trials of Nazi officials at Nuremberg, held by the victors.
For Juan E. Méndez, a contributor to the e-book and an Argentine lawyer and torture victim, “Never Again” created a mechanism outside the courts that was essential for transitioning democracies.
“Nowadays, truth-telling and truth-seeking are staples of how societies reckon with legacies of very serious human rights abuses,” he notes in his essay.
Méndez, currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, contends that “Never Again” helped pave the way to what’s now considered a universal right to truth.
“It is no longer the case that countries may be able to choose what to do about legacies of mass atrocities by deciding not to prosecute anybody but substitute that with a report and call that the truth,” Méndez notes. (Watch his talk at Duke here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mPV5kUiKZY)
Other contributors to this e-book include Eduardo González Cueva, a transitional justice expert and former staff member of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Pamela Merchant, a former executive director of the Center for Justice & Accountability; Kimberly Theidon, Henry J. Leir Professor of International Humanitarian Studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University; and David Tolbert, third president of the International Center for Truth and Justice.