The things they carry: Victims’ documentation of forced disappearance in Colombia and Sri Lanka

Kate Cronin-Furman, Roxani Krystalli
Publication Year
Asia and the Pacific
Thematic Area
Transitional Justice / Reparation / Memorialization / Family Needs / Enforced Disappearance
Open access

Survivors of systematic violations of human rights abuses carry with them the evidence of their victimization: photographs of the missing, news clippings, copies of police reports. In some contexts, collecting and preserving these documents is part of an effort to claim benefits, such as official victim status or reparations, from the state. In others, it serves as a record of and rebuke to the state’s inaction. In this article, through a comparative case study of victim mobilization in Colombia and Sri Lanka, we explore how these dynamics play out in contexts with high and low (respectively) levels of state action on transitional justice. Drawing on in-depth fieldwork in both contexts, we examine grassroots documentation practices with an eye toward how they reflect the strategic adaptation of international transitional justice norms to specific contexts. We also examine how they organize relationships among individuals, the state, and notions of justice in times of transition from war and dictatorship. We argue that, beyond the strategic engagement with and/or rebuke of the state, these documents are also sites of ritual and memory for those who collect them.