A paper on strengths of a truth commissions Essay Example

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Strengths of a Truth commission


A truth commission can be defined as a set of duties designed to reveal the past malfeasance by a public institution such as a government institution in a bid to resolve pending injustices and conflicts from the past. Most of the truth and reconciliation commissions were set up as a form of uncovering events that took place, victims, and how the parties were affected. Victims of war and other forms of conflict in transitional societies are often left alone to deal with the injustices by themselves without any form of justice taking place (Wiebelhaus-Brahm 47). They are often not given a voice with which they can share their experiences. Thus, truth commissions were formed to provide such people with the platform to share their testimonies as well as receive some forms of compensation, healing, and justice. The South African Truth and Reconciliation commission (TRC) was formed by the South African Government to tackle injustices that took place during the apartheid. When human rights abuses that result from conflict take place, it is more important for truth commissions to focus more on victims than perpetrators. The path towards reconciliation requires people to have faith in the government that they will receive assistance in the healing process.

Origin and Importance of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Truth commissions were formed as a means to end conflict between two powerful parties or groups. Transitional societies are often too weak to fight against insurgent groups that threaten the safety and human rights of others within the community. Therefore, a truth commission is an attempt to restore harmony by bringing these adversaries together. The commission attempt to address the issues surrounding the conflict in order to reach an understanding. This is also because adversaries often continue to hold much power and influence over the community. In additional, the international community has often pressured the formation of truth commissions in societies tackling past unresolved conflicts.

In societies that have suffered conflict, violence, and human rights abuse, victims are often left to suffer in silence as the governments help to progress other dynamics in the society such as economic development. The victims are often left in despair as the society remains divided along ethnic, cultural, or social lines. The past remains a sore subject in the history of the community especially if the victims have not been provided with a voice to share their experience. Victims will therefore become a left out section of the community as the government fails to address their issues of injustice. Addressing the past crimes will mean that the government is indeed concerned about the welfare of the society. This will also be a significant step towards the healing and reconciliation process between two or more parties that were at odds.

Truth commissions were a significant development of the strive to achieve justice and reconciliation to human rights abuses (Wiebelhaus-Brahm 73). Developed in the 1980s, the truth reconciliation was different from each other depending on the specific issues they were designed to address. In particular, countries transitioning from violence into peace and democracy find it extremely challenging to address issues that led to the conflict. The truth commission is therefore formed to carry out investigations geared towards correcting these wrongs committed. Truth commissions differ from other forms of transitional justice bodies in that they focus more on past events and examine them over a period of time up to which satisfactory results are provided.

Why Truth Commissions Should Focus More on Victims

Truth commissions have often been criticized in their capacity to act as a party accountable to human rights abuses (Bakiner 7). In each society, it is of crucial importance for the government to ensure that the rights of each individual are taken seriously. This is achieved through ensuring that justice is achieved within reasonable means. This also means that perpetrators are able to take responsibility of their actions in order to enforce deterrence in the future. However of greater importance is the effort to provide healing towards the victims in order to enhance social development. Repressive authority bodies have often been a source of conflict that results in people fleeing to other countries that are more stable. Truth commissions help in uncovering the past in order to provide a better future for members of the society.

As mentioned, perpetrators of human rights abuses often consist of powerful and influential people in the society. Thus, it would be difficult for the truth commission to act as a persecuting force against the wrongdoers. In addition, truth commissions are temporary bodies designed to gather information for a short period. Most of the truth commissions formed from the 1980s have lasted between 6 months to 2 years. Due to these limitations, truth commissions cannot be held responsible for the failure to exact retribution to perpetrators (Bakiner 8). Truth commissions such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission (TRC) and the Truth and Reconciliation commission of Liberia were focused on finding out the root causes of conflict, impact, and parties responsible. Subsequently other government bodies take over in the persecution process.

Parties that are found to be guilty of violating human rights are often powerful enough to obtain immunity from persecution. These parliamentary immunities are geared towards freedom of expression and independence. This will limit the capabilities of truth commissions from convicting these guilty parties. The effort to do so will only yield frustration from not only the commission officials but also the victims. The less fortunate will develop a sense of helplessness as they view the society to be riddled with impunity. Thus, it is more important to focus more on the tasks that are more capable, such as providing a clear report of the injustices and recommendations of how the reconciliation process should be carried out.

When victims are provided with a platform for telling their side of the story, the society recognizes the ability of the government to respect each individual and their suffering. Members of the community feel that they can be respected enough because the government is setting the stage for compensation for their suffering. The step towards drafting institutional reforms promotes understanding and democracy as a means of social development. This will reduce the motivations of retribution from the victims as they focus on developing their lives through integrating with the society. As such, truth commissions should be more focused on providing a platform for rapprochement as opposed to punishment of the wrongdoers. “Accordingly, truth commissions’ success rests upon their ability to sidestep retributive justice and promote restorative justice and social reconciliation – what one commentator names ‘compromise justice” (Bakiner 9).

Promoting healing is a more effective way to advance national peace and development than the strive towards persecuting perpetrators. Truth commissions work better in providing an opportunity for victims to mourn in order to enhance healing. The true essence of reconciliation for truth commissions should be more focused on the victim’s social, political, financial, and psychological well-being following tragic events. Too much emphasis of perpetrator’s guilt has shown to open the healing wounds of victims, thus aggravating their state of psychological suffering. This may lead to anger, social seclusions, and violent acts of revenge. This will only serve to destabilize a transitional society and set a negative tone of the new regime.


Truth commissions are bodies assigned with the duty to investigate past events that were associated with human rights violations. Transitional societies have often been grappled with efforts to obtain political stability through reconciliation and justice of past events. They are threatened by powerful forces through conflicts such as civil wars and the path to freedom from colonial rule. Truth commissions have shown to have a positive and significant impact on the social and political well-being. When victims are provided with a platform for telling their side of the story, the society recognizes the ability of the government to respect each individual and their suffering. Since its conception, truth commissions have been surrounded by much controversy concerning their true purpose. However, they have been seen to bear more success when they focus more on the victim’s plights rather that retribution from the perpetrators. Reconciliation is a huge stepping-stone for the healing process and social development of a community.

Works cited

Bakiner, O. «Truth Commission Impact: an Assessment of How Commissions Influence Politics and Society.» International Journal of Transitional Justice. 8.1 (2014): 6-30. Print.

Wiebelhaus-Brahm, Eric. Truth Commissions and Transitional Societies: The Impact on Human Rights and Democracy. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.