Should Great Crimes Against Humanity Be Forgiven?

The Challenge of Preventing Genocide in the 21st Century

Vienna, Austria, Spring 2000

I.  Executive Summary

Nanda Shewmangal, Arn Chorn Pond, Eva Morales, Jose Ramos-Horta, Judtih Thompson and Miki Jacevic
Events in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Burundi compel us all to recognize that despite World War II and the unique horror of the Holocaust, which the world vowed never to forget, the specter of ethnic cleansing continues to haunt the human community.  There is no greater challenge before us than to establish the moral certitude and political institutions necessary to prevent future genocide.

An essential component to this prevention lies in reconciliation and forgiveness, which have become major global issues.  From the Vatican statement on the Holocaust and the related issue of reparations by Swiss banks and restitution of Jewish property and assets throughout Europe, to the Peace Accord in Northern Ireland, the National Accord of Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Guatemala and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, people the world over are grappling with how best to come to terms with reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of great criminality.   

Inspired by the question of forgiveness raised by Simon Wiesenthal in his book, The Sunflower, the State of the World Forum, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, plans to convene a conference at the Imperial Palace (the Hofburg) in Vienna in Spring 2000, to look at the deeper aspects of reconciliation and what can be done to prevent future genocides.

The conference will focus principally on the Holocaust in light of recent archival information now available in former communist states; the Vatican statement on the Holocaust; the controversy surrounding Swiss banks and assets deposited by Jews for safekeeping; the banks role in transactions with the Nazi's involving looted gold and other looted assets; and other restitution issues pertaining to slave labor and Jewish property.

The conference will also consider other experiences where genocide, massive criminality, justice, reconciliation and forgiveness have been experienced through different cultural and historic filters.  This will include an examination of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and the peace process in Northern Ireland, among others.

By considering these different but interrelated experiences, the conference seeks a deeper understanding of the complexities of human nature and behavior with the intent to discern a practical vision which can ensure that the 21st century be less violent than the 20th.  The conference is designed to delve into the imperative for and power of reconciliation and forgiveness from the perspective of how they can be more firmly institutionalized in society.  Only then can humanity become more humane and the foundation be laid in which the atrocities so prevalent in our collective past and present become not only morally repugnant but institutionally impossible to generate and sustain.