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Final Report Summary - NARRATED INJUSTICE (Narrated InjusticeCompensation Claims and Transgenerational Narratives of Injustice)

Comprehensive summary
Acknowledging historical injustice has become a major issue in a changing Europe since the end of the Cold War, but also worldwide. Consequently, payments made by states to victims of World War II or dictatorships have become a common political practice. However, victims of colonialism became only recently an issue of public debate.
While human rights have developed into a global moral imaginary, a new field of research and practice has been established, Transitional Justice, studying the long-term effects of human rights violations and the instruments to deal with past atrocities (such as criminal trials, apologies, historical commissions, and reparations). Transitional Justice literature and practice is dominated by strong beliefs in its toolbox of reparative and restorative measures, while there is much less empirical knowledge about the impact of these measures on individual and social level.
The project Narrated (In)Justice studied how in the Netherlands post-war and post-colonial memories affected each other in the last decade and developed into a new form of claim culture. It looked at three case studies: the payments made to Dutch Jewish victims since 2000, specifically how these payments became a reference-point – in legal cases – legitimizing claims from victims of the Dutch decolonisation war in Indonesia, who won several court cases in a row. Which meant that the Dutch government was obliged to pay, for the first time, financial compensation to victims of its colonial policy in Indonesia. While at the same time descendants of former slaves, Surinamese and Dutch Antilleans, are involved in the preparation of a compensation claim on state level, the so-called CARICOM claim, in which Caribbean countries aim to sue several of the former colonial powers, such as the Netherlands. It is a call for reparations for the descendants of enslaved peoples.
Method: In the project media reports were analysed to establish the public discourses on the reparation issue and interviews were conducted with members of the various communities to examine the desires or experiences of individuals with reparation policies. Opposing those two data sets gave crucial insights into the general rhetoric and understanding of reparation policies, while bottom-up knowledge shows a much more varied idea of what compensation is actually about.
Exploring several compensation cases next to each other in one country allowed seeing similarities and differences between the groups; revealing general patterns but also how influential public discourses, generational dynamics, social and cultural settings are.
Compensations are a dialectical process; a result of memory processes as well as a catalyst for memories. However, mostly the attention stops, when the historical injustice is acknowledged, apology is made, and compensation is given. But what are the consequences of these measures? Do such instruments – as claimed by the human rights movement – empower victims, promising more than acknowledgment, namely emancipation of victims and transformation of societies?

Overview of (first) results
Studying the narratives of injustice, how they travel across generations, and how they are influenced by public discourses, made visible how desires of justice are shaped to a large degree from a narrative that one can call “double standards” (“meten met twee maaten”): While the legacy of World War II is acknowledged, the legacy of colonialism is still not, which causes a lot of discomfort.
Here the interviews with members of the Jewish community made clear that the restitution debate of the late 1990s was key for an emancipation process of the Jewish community in Dutch society. Paying compensation to survivors or their descendants made clear that the state accepted this intergenerational responsibility, not just as a psychological reality (in form of pensions for traumatized victims), but also as a material reality. Here the claim making process provided a platform for raising one’s voice and anger – a key aspect in an emancipation process. This allowed the discussion of issues with a broader public that had been hitherto confined to Jewish families or the larger Jewish community.
The Dutch-Indonesian case displayed some of the tensions in the field of Transitional Justice between local customs and Dutch law, in which the acknowledgement of injustice, goes along with a form of individualisation of victims that can damage existing social structures in Indonesian villages. It became evident that ‘Dutch’ imaginaries of justice do not always match with local realities in Indonesia and need to be translated more to the local context.
It became clear that the reparation initiative against the Dutch state on the part of Caribbean countries is becoming part of a much larger social movement, outside and inside the Netherlands, which contains many players with very different ideas about what reparation is about.
Scholars like to argue that compensation is not just as an instrument of acknowledgment (addressing the past), but also an instrument of entering a dialogue. However, mostly when talking about compensation policies as a dialogue then it means between opposing parties, the victim/perpetrator binary. This project has shown, it is a dialogue on various levels: within individuals (conflicting I-positions people have); within families (between generations or with those in the diaspora) and within victim communities, and at the same time dialogue with beyond the own group, negotiating positions in one’s society.

While in the public discourse ‘money’ is key, compensation claims are about much more. Narrowing it to the financial aspect is rather blurring and misguiding the whole debate, namely de-politicising the claims. Moreover, there is a tendency to consider them as claims about the past, while the present-ness of those claims is neglected; those desires for acknowledgment are rooted in present-day Dutch society. Particular in the two colonial cases: Here we see less a negotiation process about the past between the Dutch state and its former colonial ‘subjects’ in the East or the West, but an inquiry into present-day post-colonial Netherlands.
Whose imaginaries of justice? It is striking that often members of the Diaspora are key in making compensation claims; identifying themselves via claims, while people within the countries often have other priorities or no means. Thus, if compensations have become a key aspect of a globalized world, advocated by people living immigrant or diaspora conditions, this asks to discuss reparations not just in the frame of historical injustice but present day globalized society. The current social and political atmosphere in which pluralism is contested, feeds an increasing desire of individuals to be acknowledged with their own cultural, religious, ethnic and (post)colonial background. In this context reparation claims have become a promising frame, though partly misleading, directing our attention to the wrongs of the past instead of to its legacies in the present, which motivated the claims in the first place.

Socio-economic impacts
Insights into the (unintended) consequences of compensation policies on individual and community level helps to improve such future policies and their results.

Target groups: Scholars in the field of Transitional Justice, Human Rights and Memory Studies; policy makers and NGOs in the field of reparation politics; such as Centraal Joods Overleg (CJO); CARICOM Reparation Commission (CRC), European Reparation Commission (ERC); National African American Reparation Commission (NAARC); Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW); The European Network of People of African Descent (ENPAD), et al.

This project was hosted in the research program on Understanding the Age of Transitional Justice: Narratives in a Historical Perspective at the NIOD, Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.

Contact details: Dr. Nicole L. Immler,

Related information

Documents and Publications


Peter Romijn, (Research Director)
Tel.: +31 205233800
Fax: +31 205233888
Record Number: 189495 / Last updated on: 2016-10-06
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