Honni van Rijswijk - “Testimonial Justice in Transnational Contexts: The limitations and possibilities of the testimonial form”


The testimonial form has been used in a number of legal and quasi-legal proceedings to respond to "extraordinary" historical and contemporary events: in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings in South Africa, as a way to evidence experiences of the Stolen Generations in Australia, and in proceedings responding to the wars in Rwanda and Bosnia, to name just a few examples. This paper focuses on the Australian perspective, and uses this archive to ask questions about the role of testimony as a particular form of representation that shapes (and limits) the possibilities of justice.

The historical narratives of the Stolen Generations that have been developed in recent case law (Trevorrow v South Australia 2010) and the Federal Government Apology in 2008 are valuable in that they recognise state policies of removal, and the suffering these policies caused to Indigenous survivors. However, these narratives also tend to emphasise Indigenous suffering rather than state responsibility for this suffering. Despite recognising that the child removal policies were directed specifically to Indigenous children, legal and political responses have failed to make material amends for these historical wrongs. These responses have also put in place problematic narratives concerning actions of the past, (for example, the role of parental consent in relation to child removals), and the relationship of this past to the present.

A real problem arises as to how to intervene in these narratives. One form that has been used in a number of counter-national/historical projects is the testimony, which was utilized previously in this context in the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997. This paper examines recent web-based testimonies that have been produced with a similar approach, through The Stolen Generations' Testimonies project, an initiative of the Stolen Generations' Testimonies Foundation, which filmed the personal testimonies of members of Australia's Stolen Generations Survivors in 2009 and published them online this year.

This paper asks how we might respond to different aspects of the testimonial form: to its aesthetic aspects; to its affective claims; and to the spaces it opens up (and forecloses) in its legal and extra-legal roles.

Curriculum Vitae

Honni van Rijswijk is senior lecturer at the law school of the University of Technology Sydney and Co-Convenor of the Law and Culture Group resident there. After studying law at the Universities of Sydney and Dublin, she gained her doctorate at the University of Washington, where she was fellow at the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Dr. van Rijswijk has taught at several universities in Australia and the United States. Her research interests lie in the intersection between law, culture and literature, as well as in legal history and tort law, with a special focus on questions of social justice and indigenous minorities.

Selected Publications

  • Anthony, T. & van Rijswijk, H.M. 2012, 'Parental 'Consent' to Child Removal in Stolen Generations Cases' in Kirkby, D. (eds), Past Law, Present Histories, ANU E-Press, Canberra, pp. 193-208.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2012, 'Neighbourly Injuries: Proximity in Tort Law and Virginia Woolf's Theory of Suffering', Feminist Legal Studies, vol. 20, pp. 39-60.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2012, 'Stories of the Nation's Continuing Past: Responsibility for Historical Injuries in Australian Law and Alexis Wright's Carpentaria', The University of New South Wales Law Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 598-624.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2012, 'Towards a Feminist Aesthetic of Justice: Sarah Kane's Blasted As Theorisation of the Representation of Sexual Violence in International Law', Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 36, pp. 107-124.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2010, 'Mrs Donoghue and The Law's Strange Neighbour: New Narratives of Modernist Trauma' in Paul Sheehan, Helen Groth (eds), Remaking Literary History, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, pp. 155-166.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2010, 'Mabel Hannah's Justice: a contextual re-reading of Donoghue v Stevenson', Public Space: The Journal of Law and Social Justice, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-26.
  • van Rijswijk, H.M. 2008, 'Judy Grahn's Violent, Feminist Camp' in Glennis Byron and Andrew Sneddon (eds), The Body and the Book, Rodopi, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, pp. 319-330.