Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

A common response to widespread human rights violations, particularly following internal armed conflict, is the establishment of a governmental or independent commission to investigate and record the violations, potentially—although not necessarily—with a view to enabling criminal prosecution. Although documenting every single violation may not be possible, establishing patterns, practices, and chains of command is crucial to identifying the purposeful and systematic nature of such abuses.

Truth and reconciliation commissions, perhaps more than any other function, serve to answer the many unanswered questions generated by enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other crimes committed in times of State unresponsiveness and secrecy, that leave relatives wondering what happened to the victims and where they might be.

See Amnesty International’s comprehensive list of such commissions here. Also, the U.S. Institute of Peace provides explanations of several truth and reconciliation commissions, along with summaries of their findings (available here), as does the International Center for Transitional Justice (here).

Some notable examples of truth commissions whose reports are available online (in English) include those of East Timor, Guatemala, Rwanda (and here), and South Africa.