Truth and Reconciliation Processes: Aiding community healing through addressing impunity

102 posts / 0 new
Last post
Truth and Reconciliation Processes: Aiding community healing through addressing impunity
Truth and Reconciliation Processes: Aiding community healing

New Tactics in Human Rights’ featured online discussion for March will focus on ways in which Truth and Reconciliation processes have and are being implemented to aid community healing.

Some fundamental concepts behind Truth and Reconcilation (TRC) processes include: 1) future reconciliation is necessary for there to be a peaceful co-existence in a country or community; 2) that reconciliation and peaceful coexistence rest upon knowing as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights that have been committed; and 3) there must be public recognition of the truth that had been hidden for so long by a multitude of falsehoods.

This dialogue seeks to share experiences transitional justice processes known as Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, instituted with the aim of exploring the truth hidden behind pasts characterized by gross abuses of human rights. The conflicts experienced in the countries and contexts of our resource people have unique and particular characteristics. However, we believe that the sharing of these experiences and those of the broader New Tactics community who take part in this dialogue will yield useful lessons for other contexts considering the use of TRC process. Because the effects that violence has on people are always devastating - rippling from the individual to the family to the community to the nation; they demand a treatment that is not only individual, but collective.

There are many questions of importance for our dialogue and we look forward to the many questions that will be raised by the participants. A foundational, and often contentious, question is "What do we mean by ‘truth’?" and as a result, "How do TRC processes deal with the unraveling of differing histories, truths and memories?"

[Photo: Mrs. Cynthia Ngewu before the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing, from the Tactical Notebook, I'll Walk Beside You]

Join our featured resource people and share your own experiences, insights and questions. 

What can Kenya Learn from other TRC set up in Africa?

Comment originally posted by AUmunna

I have work with the Liberia TRC in Liberia as a Freelance statement taker and did the Liberia TRC radio program called Talking Truth.

Commissioner Massa A. Washington, who is the head of the Outreach department of the TRC, desized the TRC radio program.

Talking Truth is aired on Radio Verities twice a week to educate Liberian all the need to know about the TRC and talk about what they feel about the Liberia TRC and what can be done at the TRC.

Wanted to know their views about the Liberia TRC.

I got to know that it was not everybody in Liberia that knew about the TRC and its works.

What I know about TRC is this, A truth commission or truth and reconciliation commission is a commission tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government, in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past.

They are, under various names, occasionally set up by states emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil war, or dictatorship. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by President Nelson Mandela after apartheid, is generally considered a model of Truth Commissions, rarely if ever achieved in other parts.

As government reports, they can provide proof against historical revisionism of state terrorism and other crimes and human rights abuses.

Truth commissions are sometimes criticized for allowing crimes to go unpunished, and creating impunity for serious human rights abusers.

Since 1973, more than 20 Truth commissions have been established around the world, with the majority (15) created between 1974-1994.

Some were created by international organizations like the United Nations (UN), a few by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the majority by the national governments of the countries in question.

In Africa the TRC was set up in these countries. Rwanda (1993) (1976). In South Africa, (1992 and 1993) South African Commission of Truth and Reconciliation was established by South Africa’s post-Apartheid parliament in 1995, the Commission’s report was issued in October 1998. Zimbabwe (1985), Chad (1991-1992), Nigeria (1999), Sierra Leone (called for in 1999, still underway), Uganda (1974 and 1986-1995), Ethiopia (1993-2000), Morocco (2004). Liberia (2005).

I tryed looking at all these TRC created before and what can the Liberia TRC learn from their mistakes and try to do the best for their own TRC.

The one I focused on was the one very close to Liberia. The TRC in Sierra Leone.

What can be learned from Sierra Leone TRC?

What are their challenges and mistakes that we can learn from them?

I was not a member of the TRC, I was just a radio producer and freelance statement taker but there was so many things that I learnt from this TRC that was so challenging for my work and learning from other TRCs in Africa.

I hope Kenya will really look at these things before they set of their own TRC.In Liberia, 2005, launched in 2006. The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is a Parliament-enacted organization created in May 2005 in order to investigate and report on gross human rights violations that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and 14 October 2003.

The Liberia TRC was established along similar lines to South Africa's post-apartheid body.

Is it the same way the Liberia TRC will go as the way South Africa TRC went?

What was the aims of the South Africa TRC?

Did they achieved their aims?

What did they achieve?

There are so many challenges at all TRCs I have read about in Africa.

Let us talk about the, Problem of Justice: For many, the proper response to the perpetrators of human rights abuses, violence, ethnic cleansing, or genocide, must be criminal proceedings by some sort of tribunal, a court of law (international law, perhaps) duly authorized to render judicial dispositions: to establish justifiable facts of the matter, to render verdicts and, if called for, to punish.

But truth commissions (including the more ambitious truth and reconciliation commissions) cannot by their nature deliver this sort of justice.

Can TRC achieve Justice?

Can one achieve justice and peace in Liberia if all one can think about is one's own pain and insecurity?

How Best to Achieve Justice after conflicts in Africa? Kenya has to look into all these things when it comes to setting up TRC in Kenya.

The next thing is the Problem of Truth, In the Liberia TRC when it comes to “truth” in relation to justice, how many concerned Liberian that knows about the war in Liberian and have work up to the commission to tell the whole truth the know about how the war started?

They are waiting for the TRC commissioners to write a letter to invite them.

Or they will say they have been ask for forgives to those who they have wrong.

In the first place a the launching of the Liberia TRC in June 22 2006, Liberia President Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will have been the first person to come up to the TRC to tell the whole Liberians what she knows about the war.

That will allow the TRC and the Liberians to know the Primary actors and the Secondary actors of our war in Liberia.

That will have allow the rest of the people who where part of the war in Liberia come to the TRC to talk about the TRUTH about the war.

The issue of the complexity and multiplicity of truth is a central one linking the problematic demands of justice and the hopes for reconciliation.

South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the narrative or personal truths, emerging especially through victims and perpetrators was a very good one and allowing Nelson Mandela coming up to be the first person talking at the South Africa TRC.

In Liberia the Chairman of the TRC Cllr. Jerome Verdier is a strong and hard working and youngest ever Chairman of the TRC with all the Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in Liberia and with the International bodies not fully supporting the TRC.

Without him and his able commissioner the TRC will have not been where it is right now. If the TRc is set up in Kenya all the Internatioanl Bodies will put all monies in the Bank for the TRC before the work starts. peopel of Kenya should not allow any Internatioanl bodies to just promise as it happen in Liberia TRC.

So If the Kenya TRC will have to look at all these things. When it comes to the Problem of Reconciliation, In Liberia will we be able to reconcile after the TRC?

Almost everybody wants the special court in Liberia.

If the court is been built in Liberia,

Will there be justice after the TRC finish their work?

How can we solve the problem of justice in Liberia?

Have we as Liberians sat down to distinguishing between retributive from restorative forms?

In South Africa Desmond Tutu says, the restorative justice reflects a fundamental and venerable African value of healing and nurturing social relationships at the expense of exacting vengeance, of nothing less than a quality of humane sociality.

How can we bring reconciliation and forgiveness in Liberia?

In Liberia the whole question of reconciliation and forgiveness remains so changelleging, raising many more questions in my life so far working with the Liberia TRC and reading a lot about other TRCs.

When it comes the Problem of Democratization. In Liberia, and other truth and reconciliation commissions are usually established by transitional governments coming to power in place of repressive regimes and after periods of widespread violence, state terror, or ethnic conflict.

This is how their work is identified with “transitional justice”.

I have asked so many friends of mine that know and have worked with TRC in other countries. Transition is one to democracy and the rule of law, and according to my friend Pricilla Hayner, when I ask her one-day in Liberia. Is the rule of law working in Liberia?

Will it ever work in Liberia?

How many Liberians know how they rule of law works in Liberia? It is a diificult question to answer.

Liberians should face their need for post-war adjustment and reconciliation with courage and reason, not finger pointing.

They should stop behaving as critics of the first resort, ready to waste all their dry powder on a shortsighted attempt to stall the work of the TRC by comparing President Sirleaf to Senator Prince Johnson.

The TRC is a healthy born infant of the Liberian peace process. The "real work" is reconciliation. Finger pointing without strong evidence is a diversion that leads to false expectations and no reconciliation.

The Liberia TRC has certainly brightened my life and the lives of other victims and perpetrators. I have aired their stories. I hope truth seeking, justice and reconcilation will all work hand in hand to get perfect peace in Liberia.

How I am going to start an Oral History documenting stories by audio/video documentation of the war in Liberia. I want Liberians to know the root causes of the war, to know the primary actors and the secondary actors. I hope the people of Kenya will learn from all the TRCs set up in Africa and do the best for their country to have peace. In setting up TRC in Kenya, Kenya should not be in a rush. The people of Kenya will have look at TRC in different ways to get a better way to have long lasting peace in Kenya.

Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna

Radio Producer/Pres

Some suggestions based on my experience with the TRC S/Leone

Comment originally posted by Nineh Binta Barrie

Furthermore, one other important aspect to consider when establishing TRC is the expectation of victims testifying before the commission. Some times in Sierra Leone, witnesses hoped to be rewarded or compensated for having testified before the TRC.

To address these expectations, I suggest the working group sensitize community leaders about the mandate of the Commission, and also encourage them to fully involve in the process. These leaders in their communities would be in the position to address most of the questions that may arise from their communities.

Community educaton and sensitization

Comment originally posted by npearson

This aspect you raise about community education and sensitization I would imagine is highly critical for any TRC process. If the goal is for community members to have an opportunity to openly name and testify about the abuses that have taken place, it is imperative that people understand the "rules" that have been established. This is important for both victims and perpetrators.

For victims, it's important that they understand, as Neneh has pointed out, that they will not be compensated for their testimony. But perhaps even more difficult is that the perpetrators they name may not face consequences for the abuses in a judicial system. If this is not clear, I would think this could cause people to become more angry and disillusioned by the process. This would be counter-productive to reconciliation.

More to the point about consequences for perpetrators, TRC processes have had different ways of dealing with perpetrators. The issue of child soldiers, for example, is a particularly difficult group of perpetrators as they were initially victims themselves.

I'm interested to know how various TRC processes have done community education and sensitization regarding the "rules" and "mechanisms" of the process to engage the groups the TRC process is most intended to involve in process to make it effective.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

a TRC is only as good as its outreach

Comment originally posted by galuh.wandita

For us in Timor-Leste, trying to educate and reach people to tell them about the work of the CAVR [2002-2005] was very challenging. Remember at this time, TL was still recuperating from  the scorched-earth violent retreat of the Indonesian troops and its militias in 1999, and it is also a country where many live in isolated areas [when we started, there  were no mobile phone connections yet]. So reaching communities and victims was essential, and we could only do that by visiting them. The CAVR developed 'district teams' that would live in each sub-district for 3 months to carry out an integrated process in these communities [i.e taking statements from victims for our truth seeking process, taking statements from lower level perpetrators and facilitating a community reconciliation process, and accompanying victims and supporting those most vulnerable.] Initially, it was difficult to explain what we were about. But it was like a snow-ball effect. And by the time we stopped our field operations [after 18 mos] everybody knew about CAVR and wanted still to participate. We had to close our doors, in order to write the final report. And unfortunately, the process to implement its recommendations is going very very slow.


Regarding 'rules and mechanisms' we had to do a lot of explanation about what our work was about (including how people could participate), as well as trying to manage people's expectations. 


Galuh Wandita

Former Deputy Director/Program Manager CAVR

Senior Associate ICTJ 

TRC community outreach

Comment originally posted by npearson

Thank you so much for sharing this. The remote circumstances and isolation of communities in Timor-Leste is also similar to many communities in Africa and Latin America where TRC processes have and are taking place.

I'm very interested to learn more about the Timor-Leste TRC "district teams" and how they did their outreach in the communities. I think this would be very helpful for others considering TRC processes to know more about.

Was this done "door-to-door" style or community meetings? Radio outreach? Through church networks? How did this community education of what the TRC was all about, how people could participate, and the information sharing about the "rules and mechansims" actually take place?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Truth and Reconciliation Processes:

Comment originally posted by jose1cg

Dear Nancy,

Thanks for the questions ?  I think this your questions fro Patrick or Galuh but i would like to share some of my experience about outreach things.  I was the outreach and public inormation person who was responsible for the outreach and doing public Information during interim office up until the end on CAVR mandate. 

You are right that Timor Leste was a country that are vwery small but also remotes of circumstances are very difficult. 

Even though we have created very focus strategies to implement the TRC process.  Public informations: We created weekly radio program to inform people about TRC process every week in whole country.  We produced lots of public information materials as well as brochure, poster, leaflets, stickers, etc................. We also send out press relaeses, organize press conferences, organize lecture at school and univercities.

Outreach : we identified key stake holders in society to support in distributing information on TRC.  Organized workshops, meetings and socialization programs with stakeholders and community. 

We also create regional and district team and works in every single sub District in about three months for eache sub District to statement taking, community reconciliation process and mapping on human rights violetions thorugh discussions. 

We organize national and district public hearing on diferent-diferent themes that were identified by truth seeking team. 

This was also happened in West Timor (Indonesia) due to the needs of Timorese pro otonomy side that are now become indonesia citizens. 


Jose Caetano

This seems to be a

Comment originally posted by laura.young

This seems to be a consistent problem with TRCs around the globe.  For
example, the Advocates for Human Rights conducted an evaluation of the TRC in
Peru, and found that 1-2 years after the process had been concluded,
individuals in villages were still waiting for the TRC to come to them so that
they could tell their stories.  In our work in the Liberian Diaspora in
the United States and the UK, outreach has been a major challenge, even though
we are working in an environment where many people have easy access to email, websites,
listserves, postal mail, and in which the community is well organized for
information dissemination.  Outreach has
both an informational component and a trust-building component – even after
individuals have enough information, building trust takes repeated contacts and
sustained effort over time.  Given the short time frame in which TRCs are
generally required to operate (1-3 years), it seems that outreach about the TRC
ideally should commence 1-2 years before the TRC statement taking operations
get rolling.

Given the impracticability of that strategy in most contexts, what are
reasonable ways to ensure that individuals who want to participate - once the
statement taking phase is over or once the mandate has expired - can do
so?  Is there an appropriate role for civil society? NGOs? National Human
Rights Commissions? etc.?  Can the international community who funds these
exercises be convinced of the need for longer term documentation and

Laura A. Young

Wellstone Legal Fellow
The Advocates for Human Rights

Trust building and time

Comment originally posted by npearson

The expectation that TRC processes can take place within a 1-3 year time period really is terribly unrealistic. You raise a critical comment - trust building withiin communities.Trust building takes time - and all the more so when communities have been so violated.

It takes tremendous courage for people who have survived significant and very often numerous traumas to come forward to tell their stories. Once the public service messages informing the public about the TRC process go out (by radio, TV, posters, mailings, listservs, etc) letting people know they have this opportunity to tell their stories - there is a significant lag time. People also need to hear "through the grapevine" so to speak about the experiences of those first courageous people who step up early in the process to tell their stories. By the time those stories reassure others and the momentum gains speed and force, all the too often time has already run out to participate. Thus leaving many people feeling left out of the process.

Laura and Galuh, your ideas about how the TRC processes could be better supported following the official TRC time period are goods ones. This is excellent feedback for international funding bodies to realize that post TRC mechansims for on-going documentation, participation and social support system need to be planned for at the outset.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

The theme they are talking
Comment originally posted by Sofia Macher
  • The theme they are talking about how to involve the society, not only to victims during the process of a TRC, it is absolutely important. They achieved as wrapping the whole of society at that time was to be guaranteed or not comply with the recommendations of the TRC 

Our experience in Peru 

  • -- Public hearings were instrumental to impact the reviews published, these hearings led to the public arena what was done in secret, even to be negotiated that had happened, the victims told their truths society as a whole, the impact was very strong 


  • - To reach indigenous communities, where 85% of the victims of the conflict in Peru, made alliances with organizations of civil society for many years working with them, and in other regions with indigenous leaders, first talk with them and it was they who presented the communities work of the TRC, will only tenian trust them not to us by the TRC, without the intermediation of these organizations and individuals would not have been possible to enter their territories and give us your Testimonies (17 thousand testimonies collected in a year of fieldwork 


  • - Already completed the TRC, we were able to pass in Congress a bill for repairs, this law creates the victims record by a Council of repairs, I am its president. It is an ad hoc procedure to be completed by the work of the TRC. Now we have to put first and last name all victims of the conflict, no one can remain outside. Have permanent character, I think it is very important not to be left unfinished work of the TRC 

Sofia Macher

TRC Sierra Leone

Comment originally posted by Neneh Binta Barrie

Base on my experience with the work of the TRC in Sierra Leone, not every body knew about its establishment and more specifically its mandate. However to address this issue, a  working group was established, whose mandate was to raise awareness in small comunities all over the country about the establishment of the TRC and its role in the process of reconciliation

Furthermore, it can be very difficult to get witnesses to testify before the Commission for various reasons like, safety concerns, and also the risk of retraumatization. These are some of the reasons why most people in Sierra Leone did not want to perticipate .

In my openion, if Kenya establish a working group whose mandate  focuses only on raising awareness about the work of the TRC in the country, that will help greatly, and also before witnesses are called to testify, there safety concerns most be addressed and most importantly, the Commission should consider the risk of retraumatization and establish a support mechanism to address any potential brake down during testimony.

Here in Greensboro

Comment originally poste by jeanrodenbough

Greensboro, NC

This week marks the beginning of Greensboro's Bicentenniel observance, and allows opportunities for our Truth & Reconciliation Task Force to contribute stories and participate in activities tied to the city's celebration.

We are, according to Alex Borraine, the only T&R Commission so far to have been initiated and developed by the people of Greensboro rather than by the local government (with the guidance of the ICTJ). Our follow-up Task Force is now working in various ways to promote and carry out recommendations of the Commission's Report.

The resulting issues we face in common with others have to do with reconciliation and also the act of forgiveness. I have just read an article by Donald and Peggy Shriver, who have been to Northern Ireland. They address the matter of forgiveness and apology within political contexts, and with healing the memories of groups involved in past events. They note that "reconciliation will require a 'march through the institutions' -- all of them." I believe this kind of approach holds true universally, and the value of symbols is one stressed in the article. What are symbols that participants identify with in order to locate their perspectives, and to have these seen and recognized by others? Museums certainly provide one way to do so, as those of us who were in South Africa last November discovered. Monuments and books might provide other means. Films, documentaries, and the like are certainly ways to provide concrete perspectives, as would poetry, visual arts, music and drama.

We here in Greensboro have an exceptionally open opportunity to work in all such areas as part of remembering the history of this place. There will be much made of the usual patriotic landmarks, because two wars in effect were ended decisively here: the last major battle of our Revolution was fought here, and the last meeting of the Confederate Cabinet in 1865 took place here. We have a unique opportunity now to bring into focus subsequent struggles of race and economics that continue to polarize us, but at this time in a context that has the potential to develop new symbols and new understandings that can lead to some degree of reconciliation. If we cannot achieve that then we need to draw upon the experiences of other truth and reconciliation efforts across the world. Surely it is possible for people living in the larger community anywhere to find paths for acknowledging the truth of their history and finding forgiveness and reconciliation.

Remembering history - honest patriots

Comment originally posted by npearson

I'm not sure if this Donald Shriver is the same person you refer to in your message Jean. But I've come across a really excellent book by Donald W. Shriver, Honest Patriots Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds There is an excellent review that provides the introduction to the book and excerpts from the chapter on South Africa.

But I think it speaks to your point about the requirement to "march through the institutions" and in order to do that, we must be what Donald Shriver refers to as "honest patriots". Meaning, we love our country enough to face the worst it has perpetrated upon its citizens (and others) in order to truly address root causes of harm perpetrated over exceedingly long periods of time to make possible real healing and change.

I particularly like this view of patriots. Too often those who are seeking truth and reconciliation through the difficult process of unearthing abuse, pain and suffering are branded as "unpatriotric". They are accused of tearing the nation or community apart with this painful process and view of reality. The honest patriots know that the nation and communities are already torn apart - and as Jean says, "the wounds must be opened and given an opportunity to be cleansed and healed."

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Carrying on the work of T&R post-commission

Comment originally posted by kyle.lambelet

I'm interested to hear from folks who have been involved in other T&R processes about how their respective communities have managed to carry on the work of T&R after the commission has closed its doors and finished its work.

A little context to my question: the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was seated from 2004-2006. We're now in the "Post-Commission" phase and the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project (the group that gave the commission its mandate and formed a selection panel to identify the commissioners) seeks to continue this work, using the Truth and Reconciliation Process as a tool. This is clearly a new and different challenge than the pre-commission phase and the commission itself. For many the T&R Commission provided a concrete goal, something achievable. However, the initiators of the process here in Greensboro have seen the T&R Commission as a tool in a larger struggle for social, economic and racial justice.

So, in this transition from concrete activity to a more expansive movement for social change, how do we build on the effort and energy toward and during the Commission? In your community, how did you make the case for the need for continued work? How did you
overcome the fatigue and trauma that survivors, supporters, allies, and
the general public experience after having gone through the Commission


Comment originally posted by marga

IMHO, the work a Truth Commission should be ascertaining the historical truth, the public truth, the whole story of what happenned.  But it is the role of the courts to establish what happened in an individual basis, and it is the role of the courts to continue, in a more comprehensive basis, the work of the Commission.

 You are right, testifying before a commission can be traumatic - so people should get something in return: justice.

transtioning a TRC: from report to action

Comment originally posted by galuh.wandita

From CAVR's experience, I think we did such a good participatory process and wrote a lengthy [and often praised] extra-ordinary report documenting atrocities, using victims voices, that we collapsed in a heap after submitting the report to the President. [It did not help that a few months after there was a new crisis from which TL is still trying to recuperate from.] But I think, if I could go back in time, I would write the TRC law in a way that the work with victims (accompanying them, referring them to services, provide them with support) could transition seamlessly into a on-going social service program. As the healing of victims was one of the most important functions of the CAVR, we should have made sure that the law establishing the CAVR could have ensured continuity, inspite of any political problems around the reception of the CAVR report.


So to answer your question, we did not over come fatigue and trauma...and in retrospect, what I would do (if I could turn back the time) would be to create a fresh team just to do networking and strateging around the report's recommendations (either within the commission itself, or perhaps better yet a joint working group with NGOs, stakeholdres and former CAVR personnel). 


There is now a "technical post-CAVR" secretariat given the task for dissemination (under the President's office), but I think it would have been better to also have an independent engine working on this (and preparing for the launch of the report) before the commission was disbanded.


Galuh Wandita

Former Deputy Director/Program Manager CAVR

Senior Associate ICTJ 

The Post TRC

Comment originally posted by Sofia Macher

  • When we planing the work of the TRC in Peru, we first reviewed the experience of other TRC in the world, but especially those in Latin America. The problem in all of them was the complaint that did not follow its recommendations. 


  • Former TRC in Latin America, habian developed a close process.


  • This was a key decision for us promote an open TRC process, as a guarantee to develop the solidarity of society with the victims. We were confident that should leave initiated processes in the society to ensure its continuity even after the end of the TRC. 



  • In addition to the public hearings. Workshops were held for consultation and various working groups and many of them are still working so far, and without the TRC. 


  • For example, workshops to gather ideas on the concept of reconciliation, with other victims' organizations, to develop the proposal for repairs, a specialized group to work exhumations, which together with the judiciary and the  human rights NGOs, the beginning of a campaign "Peruvians missing" to complete the list of missing ...... 


  • Many of them have continued their work and have formed groups for specialized topics that continue to push the issues. The strongest are those of repairs, and now we have a law to repair and official bodies responsible for this issue. And the human rights NGOs have continued pushing the 47 cases presented by the TRC to the courts, all of whom are under way 


  • I believe that in Peru are the two institutions that somehow come marking the post TRC, the national coordinator of the human rights institutions in almost the entire country and the Ombudsman as an official entity that received the TRC documentary and  being done to follow up the recommendations 


  • There are major advances in justice and repair, but we have big deficit on the issue of institutional reforms, which are the keys to changing the big problems of exclusion in Peru and that is the key to imagine a reconciliation of the country 

Sofia Macher

Post TRC - institutional reform challenges

Comment originally posted by npearson

This issue is post TRC implementation of recommendations and institutional reforms is certainly being raised as a significant challenge. TRCs seem to have done outstanding jobs of providing accompaniment and support to victims during the TRC process itself. The recognition that people need a wide variety of levels of support to deal with abuses and traumatic history during the process. But the follow up processes and institutional structures needed to carry on that support is sorely lacking.

Have TRCs processes tried to prepare victims for this kind of let down? If so, how was that done?

If not, has this created different kinds of difficulties for post conflict rebuilding?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Truth and Reconciliation Processes:

Comment originally posted by cvertucci48

I would like to support the comments made by Galuh Wandita about the need for a&nbsp;stipulation within the TRC law that would have required that a mechanism be created after the Final Report of the CAVR was presented to the Timorese government to support the victims and in some way provide them some kind of assistance.&nbsp;I attended many of the public hearings that were organized by CAVR where vistims testified and told their stories of great suffering and humiliation and asked that they receive some form of justice for what had happened to them.&nbsp;Some of them&nbsp;also asked how would they be able to feed their children and send them to school when they could now no longer work because of the injuries they had suffered. These stories and pleas for assistance were repeated at all the hearings. What will be the response of the Timorese government and the international community to these cries for assistance?</div>
<div>&nbsp;</div> <div>I strongly feel that this matter (from report to action) must be seriously considered and creative solutions must be found to implement the recommendations that especially concern the victims who bravely told their stories to the CAVR. </div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Christine Vertucci, former Donor Liaison, CAVR</div>

Post TRC - the resounding challenge of implementation

Comment originally posted by kantin

Well, it sounds as though the implementation of the TRC process has been quite a challenge for many people. Here is a recap of the comments made regarding this challenge:

  • Kyle Lamelet of the Greensboro TRC, in his comment titled

    Carrying on the work of T&R post-commission asks the question "So, in this transition from concrete activity to a more expansive
    movement for social change, how do we build on the effort and energy
    toward and during the Commission?"

  • Galuh of the CAVR (TL), in her comment titled transtioning a TRC: from report to action suggests "if I could go back in time, I would write the TRC law in a way that the
    work with victims (accompanying them, referring them to services,
    provide them with support) could transition seamlessly into a on-going
    social service program."

  • Sofia of the Peru TRC, in her comment titled The Post TRC talks about the ways in which this commission strategized on this topic and developed working groups. She also talks about the use of the courts in this process, and the inclusion of 2 insitutional bodies: the national coordinator of the human rights institutions in almost the
    entire country and the Ombudsman as an official entity that received
    the TRC documentary and  being done to follow up the recommendation.

  • Christine of the CAVR commented (titled Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Truth and Reconciliation Processes: on the "need for a stipulation within the TRC law that would have required that
    a mechanism be created after the Final Report of the CAVR was presented
    to the Timorese government to support the victims and in some way
    provide them some kind of assistance."

  • Jose of Timor Leste TRC, in his comment titled Reflections on Timor Leste (posted by Jose Caetano Guterres), resounds this challenge of implementation: "
    For time been i think that TRC process is important for Timor
    Leste to deal with past and to bring justice to the people of Timor
    Leste. But first we need political will of Timorese leaders and
    International community to implement the recomendations mentioned in
    the report. If the leadersd are failed to implement the recomendation
    it means nothing for victims and we don't need another TRC process
    again. For me it will just like open wounds but no idea bout how to
    heal and recovered the wounds. This is a disaster for the Timor Leste."

How do we approach this seemingly large challenge of implementation? Is institutional reform the first step to a guarantee that the recommendations of the TRC process are heard and acted upon? How do TRC processes born from civil society (such as the Greensboro process) approach a kind of institutional reform?


    Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Working Groups

Comment originally posted by AUmunna 

Neneh Binta Barrie I really believe in the working groups.

In Liberia the working groups was established but not effective in their work with the Liberia TRC. There was no money to implement the plans of the working groups. 

So if Kenya is going to have a working group the TRC will have to work along with the working group. There must be a budget for the working group  to work with.There must be a great awareness out reach about the TRC in Kenya. In communities, villages, towns,schools,univeristies, in the government system. In every conner in Kenya so that everybody will know the work of the TRC.

It can be difficult to get witnesses to testify before the commission for their own reasons, that I really know. That  is another way for the working group to have ways to  talk about these issues. Before Kenya establish the working group they have to look at diffirent issues about the challenges of the TRC and the working group. Sometiimes there is no money to do the work as it happen in Liberia.  Kenya should not allow this to happen. TRC is not anything  to rush. For  Kenya to have a good out come of thier TRC they really need to do a lot of research on so many  other TRC  in Africa.

 Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna

Radio Producer/Pres

What can Kenya learn from truth commissions in Africa

Comment originally posted by asirleaf

Ahmed K. Sirleaf
I would say that Kenya has to be cautious. While in transitional justice (TJ),as we have seen, post conflict socities tend to learn from and build upon what others have done, or are doing,which is how it should be generally, it is very imperative however for any TJ mechanism, especially a truth commission process to be designed to meet the specific needs and contexts of that society.

So for example, Kenya should look at its history. The history of its conflict, as well as its ethnic compositions and the political moment to decide as to whether in fact, a truth commission is what's needed at this time. Perhaps, a commission of inquiry is what's needed. Perhaps there are other Kenyan values-based traditional adjudication or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are what's needed.

That said, Kenya has a lot to learn from the South African, Sierra Leonean, and Liberian processes. Someone already mentioned community education, outreach and sensitization. Those are key. a truth commission ought to be a people's process and a victim centered process.

Political will and leadership are essential as well. Kenyan political leaders could take their cues from the Mandelas and Tutus of South Africa. Kenya could also learn from Liberian Diaspora model to involve the Kenyan Diaspora. Usually, it is Diaspora folks that hold the necessary sway.

Kenya is in a special situation

Comment originally posted by marga

Unlike other countries, where truth commissions looked only backwards to what happened under previous regimes, the Kenyan TJRC will have to look at the present as well.  Those responsible - either by action or ommission - for the gross human rights violations that occurred recently, are those in power.  It's difficult to know whether it's even possible for Kenya to institute an independent TJRC under these conditions.

 But I do think a TJRC (though I'd take the R out :) is necessary.  A commission of inquiry can look into the post-electoral violence, but what we need is a commission that can look at the whole human rights (in the broad sense of the word) situation since independence, explain historical wrongs, hold those responsible accountable, and come up with present days solutions.  A commission of inquiry just won't do it.  And indeed, there have been such commissions in the past, and their work hasn't led to any changes.

Leadership "buy-in"

Comment originally posted by npearson

I'm wondering about the aspect of "leadership buy-in". It seems that many TRC processes have been intiated during times of leadership transition, hence, the term "transitional justice". But this has not been the case for the Greensboro process when this moved forward without the "blessing" of the local government, and perhaps even in opposition to the wishes of the local government.

This points to a special role that civil society can initiate even without "government sanction" of a process.

How might civil society initiatives work together with or in parallel to government processes that might be lacking in terms of real civil society engagement?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Comment originally posted by

Comment originally posted by marga

I don't know anything about the Greensboro process - but there are special reasons why Truth Commissions should be creations of the state.  One of which is that they should have access to all the documentation that the state has vis a vis the human rights violations in question.  They should have subpoena powers and the actual power to protect witnesses - often difficult without the apparatus of the state.  They should have political legitimacy - something which often times civil society lacks.  And they should have the necessary resources to do their work, again, often a limitation for civil society.

Civil society can do a lot, and they do.  Right now in Kenya the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights - a quasi-governmental body - is preparing a comprehensive report on the post-election violence that should serve as a precursor and base for the TJRC.   Other organizations are looking into the matter as well.  But there seems to be a general feeling that a truth commission is what's needed to address not only the recent violence, but the whole gamuth of human rights violations since independence. 

Legitimacy of TRC processes

Comment originally posted by npearson

I agree with you regarding the importance of state commitment to national processes.

I was interested to explore what the various dimensions of building legitmacy for TRC processes. For example, in South Africa, President Nelson Mandela enlisted the support and stature of Bishop Desmond Tutu for that process.

I'm wondering for other processes -- and especially the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation process which was not a government created or sanctioned process -- what institutions or who was enlisted to add the weight needed create the needed legitimacy in the eyes of civil society?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

TRC Legitimacy

Comment originally posted by asirleaf

Ahmed K. Sirleaf

I think that the legitimacy arguement has been made in several folds. First and foremost, Political and national or high level endorsement of the the process is important for its legitimacy. It has to be seen as a legitimate and serious politically independent institution. This can be achieved through what you alluded to, Nancy. Respected figures of national and international stature must be enlisted. Such individuals of high eminence should be willing to begin the healing process by offering national or individual apologies; acknowledge that a wrong had been done.
Such leaders should have the courage to appear before the process to talk about whatever roles, be it actual or perceived, they may have played. Be willing to be sincerely contrite and repentant, as as a measure of reparations, it is the rights of the victims to have that guarantee of non repetition of the crimes/violations.

Another imprtanct point about the legitimacy question has to do with whether such bodies should have the legal authority to be addressing issues of serious violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes, in some instances, crimes gainst humanity, and national law violations. This borders around the dilemma of again, the question of whether we should be prosecuting perpetrators, or trying to seek the truth, forgiveness and, promote individual and national reconciliation.

In other words, is it moral for a truth and reconciliation commission process to grant amnesties, or recommend amnesties? Is it moral for a truth commission to seek forgiveness and reconciliation from victims, and not retributive justice for those victims? What do truth commissions do to deter recidivism, if they don't seek retribution and serious puinishments against perpetrators? These are questions that we encounter everyday as we work with Liberians both in the Diaspora and in Liberia.

Comment originally posted by Sofia Macher
  • I think we have to differentiate processes, one more complex is the TRC, as a formal processes in times of a country in transition, and second, the processes to built a collective memory, which does not require official. 


  • I understand the experience of Greensboro. A public process, legitimized by society itself, which produces an assessment of past events that marked the life of a society and therefore have a tremendous effect on the present. A revision of this past ethics could mean profound changes in a community, especially the younger generation who are better able to carry out this exercise in revision, 


  • But also consider that these processes of collective memory are also a therapeutic effect on the victims. 


  • I do not believe in amnesties for human rights violations. I understand that may not bring to justice violators of human rights, either because it lacks the institutions of the state to perform or a question of power. But this does not mean we should give amnesties and forget what happened. That is not possible from the viewpoint of the victims. 


  • The perdon can not be taken by a government decree, it is subjective and everyone should take their own decision. What this historically proven, is that the demand for justice by victims goes beyond periods of transition. THEY MAY spend 20, 30, 50 years and the demand for justice will continue to be an issue in the country.


Sofia Macher 

Are there any such national leaders?

Comment originally posted by marga

I just don't see a government, any government, buying into a process that will establish that a couple of months before it had massacred people or stood aside while they were being massacred.  I see them finding political expediency in agreeng to such a process, and I see them manipulating it for their own political gains, but not using it as a truth-finding tool (a truth that they likely want to hide).  But I am probably a cynic :)

in the same line , i think

Comment originally posted by Sofia Macher

in the same line , i think its no possible organized a TRC if the conflict din;t finish

Sofia Macher 

There must be a Radio Program to talk about TRC in Kenya Now....

Comment originally posted by AUmunna

I did a radio program in Liberia called STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART. I started doing this before the Liberia TRC was launched base on my experience with the Victims and Perpetrators. They did not know about the TRC, but both Victims and Perpetrators came on STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART to talk about what had happen to them during the  war. I told them I was not going to pay for any story.  They came in their numbers to get their parties talk about their trauma they have gone through during the war. That was in 2004 and the TRC was launched in 2006. That means I was doing a TRC on the radio but not bringing the Justice part of it. When they TRC was now launched, the TRC commissioner were now coming on the radio to talk about the TRC on my STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART. These were they type of stories that will  come to the TRC.  I know  it can be very difficult to get witnesses to testify before the Commission for various reasons . They believe that there was a lot of money at the TRC so they wanted the TRC to pay for their stories.  In Kenya there must be a good ways for letting the people of Kenya know that they should not have to get paid for their stories.  Do not rush with the TRC in Kenya if that is the best way for Kenya. Will the TRC bring lasting peace? Is the TRC what the people of Kenya wants?

How will it help Kenya to recover form the trauman? There are so many leasons to learn form other TRCs in Africa.

 Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna


Radio Producer/Pres

Are truth commissions morally justifiable

Comment originally posted by asirleaf

Ahmed K. Sirleaf
Another question that is often raised is the morality or legitimacy of truth commissions. This question is also arguably tied into the question of truth seeking, truth telling and versions of truths.

Given the kind of crimes/violations these bodies address, or at least are meant to address, are they morally justifiable? Should post conflict societies pay more attention to the exploration of other conduits of holding alleged perpetrators accountable, addressing impunity and therby providing justice? What's justice in a post conflict society context anyway?

What do the notions of accountability, justice, truth telling and/or healing through truth seeking mean to you all?

Justice in a post conflict society

Comment originally posted by npearson

This is such a difficult question to answer when wars have wrecked such profound damage on individuals, families and communities.

I remember attending a presentation by David Crane, the former chief prosecutor of the UN-backed Special
Court for Sierra Leone. He said, "
The mandate of the Court is really quite simple and
quite specific: to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for
war crimes and crimes against humanity in violation of international
humanitarian law." [emphasis on words mine]

What struck me most about his presentation was his assertion that "greatest responsiblity" become only those at the highest points of chain of command. That's why the Special Court of Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor, then the acting president of Liberia. David Crane made the point that if you tried to hold those even considered "most" responsible, a judicial system can collapse under the weight of the cost and time to try the cases.

I was also struck by the importance David Crane put on the Truth and Reconcilation process in Sierra Leone. Although he could not promise judicial justice to each person who suffered autrocities during the war, he would tell them about the TRC process - a place to tell their stories, be heard and have their situation recognized - as one of the ways to hold perpetrators accountable.

Is that enough accountability?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manag


Comment originally posted by marga

The answer to your question "
Is that enough accountability?" is "No, of course not". 

Victims deserve justice, they want justice, and justice means that everyone who participated in (at least) a gross human rights violation must be held criminally accountable for it.  It may take a long time, it will take the constant work and pressure of civil society, but if you let your run-of-the-mill torturer get off with a warning, there will never be an incentive for the next wanna-be-torturer to stop and think of the consequences of his actions.

But it goes beyond all that - the right to justice for gross human rights violations IS a basic human right.  Forgoing it, means forgoing the rule of law - and how can a country achieve anything near reconciliation without the rule of law?

Justice in a post conflict society

Comment originally posted by asirleaf

Ahmed K. Sirleaf

David Crane's emphasis on the so-called doctrine of " those who bear greatest responsibility," as enshrined in the Special Court for Sierra Leone's statute illustrates the dillemma of justice vs. prosecution. This principle of those of who bear greatest responsibilities is a transitional justice tactic in an of itself. when you have a sitaution as we had in Sierra Leone or in Liberia, where, in the case of Liberia, you have some 350, 000 ex-combatants inlcuding former child soldiers, what does one do? Do you push for prosecution when your judicial system is in shambles? That would be an enormous challenge in even the most sophisticated legal system.
It is also a practical matter. You have to have court houses, trained prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, forensic experts, trauma counsellors, and so so forth to be realistic about advancing prosecuting everybody who violated some of the egregious crimes against humanity in the world.

That begs the question then, if one cannot prosecutte everybody; the foot soldiers, how does one then address issues of impunity? How does one deliver justice and hold those perpetrators accountable? This is where proponents of truth commissions say, we can ensure all of these things through the truth seeking process.
In the Liberian process, for example, the Commission's mandate, in part, calls for the TRC making recommendations for a number of measures inlcuding but not limited to, system reform so as to inherently ensure justice in those systems. For instance, if you vetted who qualifies to serve in post conflict institutions such as the new police force, the military, the judicial system and so on, you are ensuring justice and holding people accountable.
If you recommend and implement lustration or banning as discussed above on human rights grounds, you are holding peoople accountable. If you refused to amnestise people for serious violations and make to those perpetrators subject to some type prosecutorial process at the end of the day, to some victims and/or survivors, that's the kind of justice they seek. For others, if you recommend development and societal or social reconstruction measures that creates, jobs, puts food on the table for thier families, provide an education to thier children and create the environment for so that thier basic needs are met, that's the kind of justice those others accept.
If done well, a truth commission process can accomplish all of these things. So truth commission process as a tactic in healing and bringing justice and accountability has, and can have enormous utilities.

That is a very difficult question

Comment originally posted by marga

I don't have an answer to the question of how you address impunity in a situation where it's practically impossible to try everyone responsible for gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.  It's particularly difficult in a situation like Sierra Leone's or Liberia's, where the perpetrators are also victims, and even more so when they were children.  It may very well be an insurmantable challenge.

But the child soldiers were not the only ones responsible, and between them and the Charles Taylors, there are mid-level perpetrators that can also be held accountable.  Maybe not right now - but some day, when the judicial system is better developed and more capable.   Justice delayed is better than justice denied forever.

The concept of blood money - for that's what the promise of food, work and schooling in exchange for impunity ultimately is - is very old in human systems and perfectly acceptable in many societies.  But it's up to the victims to accept it - not up to the state to decide that people rather have food than justice.  And indeed, under the international human rights system, they have a right both to justice and reparations.  It shouldn't be an either/or.  

Yes Nancy David crane was

Comment originally published by Neneh Binta Barrie

Yes Nancy David crane was the chief prosecutor for the UN backed war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone popularly known as the Special court for Sierra Leone. The mandate of the court is to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity under the International and the domestic Law of Sierra Leone. Most victims would want there direct perpetrators to be punished, but I think the possibility for that is limited. However this brings me back to the important of the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since the possibility of bringing all perpetrators to justice seems in possible in a situation where there was mass violation, the TRC would be in the position to help victims experiences be recognized.

I think /truth/ commissions are essential

This comment was originally posted by marga

Truth and /reconciliation/ commissions are something else.

 A truth commission should have the mission of investigating the historical truth, the common truth, understanding and explaining what happenned, how it happenned, why it happened.  It must ascertan the truth in a way that no one can deny it again.

But their role should be limited to that.  The courts have the obligation to provide justice - to ascertain individual truth and hold perpetrators criminally accountable. 

There is no reason why a country can't have a truth commission and trials at the same time.  Just because it didn't work in South Africa, it doesn't mean it won't work in other countries.

I totally agree with your

Comment originally posted by Neneh Binta Barrie

I totally agree with your comments Marga. In fact it would be difficult to ascertain peace if the root cause of the problem is ignored, uncovering the truth about why the atrocities where committed is a straight forward way to justice.  Importantly, the truth commission can also make recommendations based on their findings of the cause the problem.  These recommendations may help to prevent future atrocities. This is what happened in Sierra Leone. If you reflect back on the mandates of the tribunals, more specifically the Special Court for Sierra Leone, it is clear that its mandate is not to explore why these atrocities were committed, but to show to the world that we must value and respect human dignity, and violators may face consequences of their actions.

In my perspective, the establishment of the TRC in Sierra Leone provided the space for Sierra Leonean to talk about their experiences, and also played a tremendous role in the rehabilitation and reintegration process.

It is important to understand that, not everybody will have the chance to tell their experiences before the Tribunals because; it is guided by time frame and focuses on crimes at certain places on a given period. Furthermore, both the prosecution and defense select cases that they believe might be strong to prove their case. In contrast, the TRC is open to all victims and perpetrators.



Comment originally posted by Sofia Macher

  • when we speak of massive violations, I think the output is more realistic to bring to justice the person responsible highest in the hierarchy of command, by the difficulty in evidence and other legal requirements 


  • For its part the methodology of work of the TRC, have the chance to rebuild the entire process of violence, explain it, identify responsibilities and macke conclusions condemning these crimes, establish a conviction social ethics 


  • Although this does not replace the criminal justice certainly facilitates the initiation of legal proceedings and subsequent besides establishing a milestone in the history of a country 

Sofia Macher

Bring the lower brass to justice

Comment originally posted by marga

(I think I finally figured out how to post within a thread, let's see if it works). 

I think that it's absolutely essential to prosecute the top brass -
they are the ones that planned and executed the whole of the massive
human rights violations and they are the ones that bear the greatest
responsibility.  BUT, I don't think you can let the actual perpetrators
go.  It's true for practical or evidenciary reasons you won't always be
able to get them, but I don't think it should be a policy that they
should not be prosecuted.   One way of doing it is forgoing individual
prosecutions, which are not practical in the first place, and prosecute
people in concrete groups: i.e. all those who "worked" in a secret
detention camp, all those who belonged to a death squad, all those who
committed a massacre.  The advantage of this strategy is that you get
everyone (for that concrete situation) from the person who ordered and
supervised it, to the one who guarded the prisoners between torture
sessions. The trials are longer with more defendants, but the witnesses
only have to testify once and more victims can be included in the

The other strategy, which has NOT been adopted in Latin
America despite our work and advocacy on the subject, is that people be
prosecuted directly for crimes against humanity instead of for domestic
crimes, and that the figure of joint criminal enterprise be used when
appropriate to "get" members of the group against whom there may not be
direct evidence that they participated in the direct victimization of
the named victims at the trial.

The problem with not addressing
the lower perpetrators, is that by not doing so you not only deny
victims justice - but as a state you also not comply with your
obligation of promoting human rights.  Why should someone not kill or
steal, when people who have killed and tortured walk scot free?  Why
should the police not torture or disappear those who fall in their
paws, when those who did it before received no punishment?

tried very hard to get away with a policy of "forgetting", and it
didn't work.  Our society not only didn't heal or reconcile - but it
got more polarized, crime went up and social wrongs continue to boil. 
I don't think impunity is going to work for other countries either. 

I don't have an answer about child soldiers :(

Comment originally posted by marga

I simply don't know what you do with them.  I imagine that the main goal with these children - as it should be with all child criminals - is rehabilitation, and that may or may not be done within the criminal justice system.  But I see it as a tremendously difficult issue with which I have no experience.  

I do think that those who were forced to collaborate deserve a huge break, *as long as they admit what they did*.  I wouldn't concentrate in prosecuting them, unless I was done with everyone who participated willingly.  Even victims are often willing to be compassionate with those whose involvement in attrocities was not voluntary.

And yes, it's terribly traumatic for the victims to see the perpetrators walking around town.  Indeed, I think it says a lot about victims when they don't take justice into their own hands - for when the state fails in this regard, who can't understand self-made justice?


My experience with victims, however, in particular in Argentina, is that they are not as willing to leave justice up to God.   That's why 30 years later, we are still fighting for it, and many of us - even those of us who are not victims ouselves - will fight for it until we die.

That's why I believe in /truth/ commissions

Comment originally posted by marga

Not truth /and reconciliation/ commissions.  As I've said before, let the role of the truth commission be to discover the historical truth - and the role of the courts to establish individual truth and impart justice.  There is absolutely no reason why a truth commission needs to do both (other than as a tool for those who would impose impunity).

not all TRCs justifiable

Comment originally posted by galuh.wandita

I think this is an extremely impotant question. I don't think all post-conflict situations need a TRC, although I think the truth has to be acknowledged one way or another. Also, we have to beware also of problems in the establishment and implementation of TRCs --after all at the end of the day it is just a mechanism (just like trials, there will be fair trials and bad trials.) One controversial thing happening in Indonesia and Timor-Leste now, is the establishment of a bilateral so-called "truth and friendship commission" [CTF]. The CTF was established by the two governments to find 'the conclusive truth" from the various transitional justice mechanisms that have been implemented by the two countries (trials in both countries, and an inquiry in Indonesia under the human rights commission, plus the CAVR.) It is a long story, but the short version is that this Commission had a very flawed TORs (could recommend amnesty for perpetrators, rehabilitate the names of those wrongly accused, and makes no mention of victims rights.)  They held 6 public hearings, during which Indonesian generals and officers could say whatever they wanted without any cross-examination. Basically, they used a victim's hearing model for pepetrators. In the next few months the CTF will launch it's final report, so we will see what happens at the end. However, at this point the CTF is a truth-seeking mechanism that has obstructed truth, and put aside victims rights.  It is very very risky to use a TRC process in a context of full impunity (as is the context in Indonesia.) Although you would have to find the balance between trying to use something like this to get a bit of truth, and not closing the door for justice --even if it is still in the distant future.

Galuh Wandita, ICTJ (formerly with CAVR)

reconciliation as one of many tactics to heal communities

Comment originally posted by kantin

This is certainly a thought-provoking question, Ahmed. Thanks for bringing it up.

Should communities that find themselves in the post-conflict situation of needing to find a way to heal look towards the pursuit of justice and accountability, or the pursuit of reconcilation and forgiveness? It is a very difficult and complicated dilemma. I came to truly understand its complexity after speaking with survivors of the Lords Resistence Army in Uganda - some wanting reconciliation in order to heal and move on, and others wanting nothing short of punishment for the perpetrators. Both options alone have their price. Reconcilation may define the perpetrators' responsibility, but denies the victims their desire for accountability and fairness. Whereas, a quest for justice could take years, and the criminals could fill so many jails, that the suffering will never end. But are the survivors of the LRA limited to these two options? I believe the solution will be a combination of many activities (and tactics).

As I'm sure you can tell, I can appreciate the desire to justify or criticize these processes, and compare them to other justice-seeking practices.  But I would suggest that we think of the creation of Truth and Reconciliation processes as a tactic to be used in addition to a number of tactics for the overall goal of healing communities.  Therefore it would be wise for us to focus on how to strengthen its effectiveness.  I would be interested in hearing what others think are the weakness and strengths of Truth and Reconciliation processes.  Furthermore, I am interested to hear what the biggest challenges were in implementing this process.

I believe that it is important to assist the community in healing by the means it has deemed most appropriate. Creating a Truth and Reconciliation process is just one of many of these tactics, and a very powerful one indeed! 

Kristin Antin - New Tactics

But what are the goals?

Comment originally posted by marga

You assume that the overall goal has to be healing communities - but that is  one of the goals.  Even if by some miracle you could get people to forgive and forget - without systemic changes, there will be nothing to stop the violations from occurring again.    Human rights violations do not occur in a vacuum, they are brought up by specific issues and while a truth commission can discover them and make recommendations about them - ultimately only political will can produce the necessary changes.

 So I'd propose that the overall goal is building cohesive societies, where human rights and the rule of law is respected and citizens have legitimate and efficient ways of having their grievances addressed.  And truth commissions can help identify what those grievances were and recommend forms of addressing them (and these are their strengths)- but they cannot, by themselves, create the necessary systemic changes necessary for making societies work (and these are their weaknesses).

It's true that the quest for justice can take years - but those who rather forgive and forget can do so without impeding the rest for fighting impunity. I know that where I come from, at least, only justice will heal the wounds.

truth commissions and establishing justice

Comment originally published by kyle.lamblet

Kyle Lambelet, Greensboro, North Carolina

marga, you bring up some good points, which I assume are emerging from a particular experience. I'm having trouble figure out what that experience is, however, and wonder if you could expand on that; it would be helpful to get a handle on where you are coming from.

The Greensboro process has not been so clean as courts=justice and commission=truth. In the US, as in many western governments, the advisarial nature of the criminal "justice" system and the fact that justice is equated with punishment makes coming to a wholistic, or cohesive, justice very challenging. A helpful term that I have found used to describe the courts in the US is that they operate out of a "retributive justice" model. The GTRC's Final Report defines retributive justice in this way:

"The 'retributive justice' model of the U.S. legal system confines judicial inquiries to the proof of a defendant's guilt (criminal cases) or liability (civil cases), under a narrowly defined set of laws and rules of procedure."

It goes on to comment:

"As a result, the examination of the role of individuals and institutions, outside of the particular defendants on trial, is limited solely to their relevance to those particular proceedings. Similarly, the scope for defining and addressing other types of harm and other stakeholders in the incident is also very narrow. The courtroom is the realm of technical knowledge and expertise, with little leeway for richness of context or consequences that surround wrongs." (to read on visit the GTRC's website).

Here in the US there are major problems with this model, particularly in that it is greatly limited in its ability to restore right relationships by breaking the cycle of violence and get at the larger systems and institutiosn that are complicit in acts of violence. Regarding the events of Nov. 3rd, 1979, the retributive justice of the courts failed completely, in part because of the limitations of the system itself. In two criminal trials the Klan/Nazi members who attacked the Labor organizers and protesters were acquited of all charges. In a later civil trial, the Klan/Nazi's and the Greensboro Police Department were found jointly liable for the death of one of those killed in '79.

Facing the failure of the criminal "justice" system and the alienation and demonization of the survivors of this tragedy, folks in Greensboro organized a Truth and Reconciliation process to accomplish many things: healing of the community, exposure of the hidden systems and structures that give rise to violence, challenging and changing those structures, and reclaiming a more truthful historic and public memory of the events of Nov. 3rd, to name a few.

Isn't this the work of justice?

Have we been able to punish the perpetrators of violence? No, but that was not the goal or intent of the survivors or of the Commission. The goal has been to promote community healing and reconciliation through exploring and exposing truth. Here is an excerpt from the mandate of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (more can be found at

"The passage of time alone cannot bring closure, nor resolve feelings of guilt and lingering trauma
for those impacted by the events of November 3rd, 1979. Nor can there be any
genuine healing for the city of Greensboro, unless the truth surrounding these events is honestly confronted, the suffering
fully acknowledged, accountability established, and forgiveness and reconciliation facilitated."


Comment originally posted by marga

I come, in particular, from the Argentine experience - a situation in which 30,000 people were disappeared by the defacto government (many more were killed, but society has not dealt with that issue yet).  But I work on Latin America and South America in particular, where the situations - and the feelings of the families of the victims, are similar.  We work for truth - both collective and individual - but just as much for justice and for memory.  And while we, as well as the state, are responsible for memory - justice is the province of the state.  Indeed, it has to be the province of the state.

 And while I'm Argentine, I live and work in the US (and got my law degree here), and I would find that in cases where the US government is directly or indirectly responsible for human rights violations, those violatons need to be addressed by courts.   Now, it's not the job of courts to bring about reconciliation (if that is a worthy goal, which it not always is) nor necessarily respite for the victims - it's the role of courts to ensure compliance with human rights and assert the rule of law.  Other mechanisms can and should be used for other purposes.

I took a look at your website, and indeed we are talking about apples and oranges.  A truth commission for an event that ocurred once and involved very few people is very different for one that involved thousands and took years.  A few families can learn to forgive without criminal justice - but 30,000 will not and should not.

Different kinds of justice

Comment originally posted by npearson

The dialogue is raising very important points related to our definitions, concepts and expectations of justice.

offer these thoughts, as a way to to clarify in my own mind and
hopefully give additional food for thought to others, some the distinctions I'm seeing emerge in the

Retribution: As Kyle has very clearly outlined in his
post - rule of law court systems (criminal and civil) to bring about
judgment and a sentance for a crime committed.

This is the aspect I believe TRCs are trying to address. The Center for
Restorative Justice at Suffolk University defines it this way: "Rather
than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative
resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected
communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation
and the rebuilding of relationships." [Excerpted from this source:] Agnes provides additional concepts and ideas on restorative justice in her comment "Setting up TRC in Kenay is one thing, but what happen after TRC"

An aspect of restorative justice, one dictionary defines it as "The
act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken
away, lost, or surrendered."

TRC processes have expanded the repertoire of restitution. Some examples, among many, include:

It is my understanding that TRC processes hope to stop the cycle of
violence that vengence and mob justice can create in post conflict
situations. Because as much as we try, restorative justice cannot bring
people back to life. There can never be enough restitution or
"compensation" for the death or disappearance of a loved one. The TRC
process can play a significant and critical role and space for broad
community grieving and acknowledgment of this loss. At the end of the day, people are in need of finding a way to live together without continuing another cycle of violence - in this generation or the next.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics Program Manager

Different Kinds of Justice

Comment originally posted by AUmunna

Nancy you are talking about different kinds of Justice. Are there Different kings of justice we can get after TRC?

Justice and Fairness. Can we get Justice and Fairness after TRCs are been set up?

Restorative Justice: What Is It and Does It Work?

Restorative justice has been criticized in Liberia. What it is the limitations and achievements that might be, and how it might be understood.

I explore the foundational concepts of reintegrative shaming, acknowledgment and responsibility, restitution, truth and reconciliation, and sentencing or healing circles for their transformative and theoretical potentials and for their actual practices in a variety of locations conflicts, civil wars, and liberation struggles.

Restorative justice, which began as an alternative model of criminal justice, seeking healing and reconciliation for offenders, victims, and the communities in which they are embedded, has moved into larger national and international arenas of reintegration in political and ethnic conflicts.

This review suggests that there are important and serious questions about whether restorative justice should be supplemental or substitutional of more conventional legal processes and about how its innovations suggest potentially transformative and challenging ideas and "moves" for dealing with both individual and group transgressive conduct, seeking peace as well as justice.


Agnes M.F. Kamara-Umunna


Radio Producer/Pres