Communication rights include the right to memory

By Philip Lee - 2008

Article 19, the international freedom of expression organization, has welcomed an official report prepared for the French National Assembly (made public on 18 November 2008) recommending that no new laws on “historical truth” and memory should be adopted.

A week before its publication, a group of world renowned historians and writers issued the “Appel de Blois” stating that “History must not be a slave to contemporary politics nor can it be written on the command of competing memories. In a free state, no political authority has the right to define historical truth and to restrain the freedom of the historian with the threat of penal sanctions.”

The text included a call for “government authorities to recognize that, while they are responsible for the maintenance of collective memory, they must not establish, by law and for the past, an official truth whose legal application can carry serious consequences for the profession of history and for intellectual liberty in general.”

The background to the “Appel” is the ongoing problem of racial discrimination and a resurgence of anti-semitism, but it also touches on such issues as criminalizing the past and, therefore, putting obstacles in the way of historical research.

In February 2005 the French parliament passed a law, Article 4 of which prescribed that school curricula should recognize “the positive role played by French presence overseas, especially in North Africa.” The controversial topic of Algeria is almost a taboo in the higher echelons of French politics. Repealed a year later, this provision highlights the danger inherent in laws attempting to impose historical truth.

In his book Patas arriba: la escuela del mundo al revés (1998) published in English as Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World (2000), the Uruguayan journalist and write Eduardo Galeano laments the absence of a ‘right to remember’.

Galeano writes, “There is no silent history. However much they burn it, however much they smash it, however much they lie about it, human history refuses to shut up. Time that was carries on pulsating, alive, inside the time that is, although the time that is neither wants it or knows about it. The right to remember is not among the human rights consecrated by the United Nations, but today it is more than ever necessary to claim it and put it into practice: not to repeat the past, but to avoid its repetition.”

WACC has a number of projects related to reclaiming and restoring public and collective memory. Recently it supported the production of a documentary called Las viudas del carbón (Coal Widows) in Mexico, and Tambogrande: Mangos, Murder, Mining in Peru. A current project involves a documentary on the Ingenio Colima massacre in 1980 in El Salvador.

Communication rights include the right to memory and WACC supports Article 19’s stance on freedom of expression in relation to historical truth.

By Philip Lee| 2008
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Communication rights enable all people everywhere to express themselves individually and collectively by all means of communication. They are vital to full participation in society and are, therefore, universal human rights belonging to every man, woman, and child.


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