Last Reviewed 30 May 2012
Strategic Choices in the Design of Truth Commissions

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 Design Factors
 -Political Context


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Design Factors >

Continuation of Efforts
Truth commissions serve the primary purpose of unveiling the truth about past human rights violations. But in the eyes of many societies, there are corollary purposes that are closely aligned with uncovering the truth: to provide victims with acknowledgement, apologies and/ or compensation from the state; to ensure - through structural and legislative reform - that past human rights abuses will happen 'never again'; to bring those who have perpetrated grave human rights violations to justice; and to take care of the victims and survivors of human rights violations.

Continuation efforts will, therefore, likely be judged with respect to the following components:

Endorsement of findings by government

Once a commission has published its report, the government can accept or reject the findings of a commission. The government furthermore has a choice of which form to give the endorsement, and whether or not to offer an apology for past injustice on behalf of the state.

Implementation of recommendations

A crucial question after the conclusion of a commission's work is whether or not the government attempts to implement its recommendations to the fullest of its capacity. Recommendations of commissions tend to concern prosecutions, reparations/ compensations and structural reforms. Implementation needs to be measured in all of these areas, accordingly. In most cases, implementation needs a continued effort on behalf of the state.

The choices confronting a government in reaction to recommendations then are

  • To work towards implementation of all recommendations

  • To work towards implementation of some recommendations, or

  • To implement none of the recommendations

Prosecution of perpetrators

A sense of incompletion is likely to prevail without prosecution of the perpetrators identified by a truth commission. Since truth commissions are rarely instruments of justice, justice needs to be served through other venues.

The government faces the choice between

  • Initiating prosecution of perpetrators from all ranks

  • Initiating prosecution of perpetrators selectively, e.g. limited to high ranks, or

  • Not initiating prosecution of perpetrators at all

Continuing activities by other organizations

In some circumstances, the commission's work can be continued by other organizations. Such organizations can be follow-up institutions specially created for this purpose, existing state institutions, or non-governmental organizations. Activities of such agencies can include: continued investigation; allocation of reparations; or provision of legal, medical or psychological assistance. We are only including such continuing action that has been inspired or called for by the work of a commission.

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