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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Dissemination of Findings
At the end of a commission's lifetime, it is called upon to make known its findings, conclusions and recommendations. In some cases the commission's cumulative knowledge has only been shared with the president of a country. In most cases, though, this knowledge has been published. One important way of sharing the commission's insights into the true nature of past human rights violations to date has been the completion and publication of a report that documents its findings. Commission reports vary with respect to their length, the in depth coverage of individual cases, the breadth of their distribution and accessibility as well as the specific recommendations they include. While the report is the culminating point of a commission's work, some commissions have additionally used alternative ways of presenting and disseminating their findings in order to assure the widest possible outreach and impact. The media coverage that the presentation of a commission's report receives is one important additional way to ensure wide dissemination.

The key components of the dissemination of a commission' s finding are, then, the following:

Completion of report

An important first step towards disseminating findings is the actual completion of a report. The written documentation of the investigation and findings, to be accomplished within the very narrow time span during which a commission operates, is a challenging task. Only few commissions manage to complete their report within the exact time frame set up in the beginning. But the completion of a report is crucial, and should be afforded some additional time if necessary.

Choices regarding the completion of a report are

  • To complete a report within the original timeframe,

  • To complete a report with an extension of the original timeframe, or

  • Not to complete a report at all

Publication of report

A second step to ensure wide dissemination of a commission's findings, beyond the completion and presentation of a report, is the publication of this report. Publication allows for long-term public access to the findings and conclusions of the commission.

One can choose to

  • Publish the report or

  • Not publish the report

Relevant additional information concerning report publication is the publication date as well as the length of the published report.

Distribution/ Accessibility of report

A third important step in making a commission's findings widely known is the actual distribution of the commission's published account. Availability of an abbreviated version, translation into all languages that are relevant for the victims and wide distribution of the report in urban and rural centers, ideally supplemented by radio and TV broadcasts that will reach the illiterate, are central for the accessibility of the commission's findings for the population. Widest possible distribution will further the credibility and effectiveness of a commission's work, but can be politically inopportune in the face of strong opposition from armed forces or segments of the political elite.

Choices with respect to accessibility of a report are:

  • Low accessibility

  • Medium accessibility, or

  • High accessibility

These choices are closely related to choices concerning the distribution of a report:

  • Wide distribution (through print, TV, radio, and/ or web; locally, nationally, and/ or internationally)

  • Limited distribution (through only some of the above media)

Relevant additional information pertaining to the accessibility of the report is

  • Availability of (short) summary version; and

  • Language of publication

Contents of report

Finally, the contents of a commission's report contribute to spreading knowledge about past human rights violations. Accuracy and detail of a report, inclusion of names of victims and perpetrators, and recommendations for future action are elements that enhance the relevance of findings in the eyes of the society of a country.

There are a host of content choices:

  • How many cases to cover;

  • How detailed the coverage should be (Should it include all victims who testified, should it include only emblematic cases, and/ or should it include an analysis of structural causes of violence?);

  • Whether it should include names of perpetrators;

  • Whether it should include recommendations;

  • Which types of recommendations it should include (Should it urge prosecution, should it suggest measures of reparations/ compensation, and/ or should it recommend structural reform?)

Alternative presentation of findings

A commission can use alternative forms of presenting its findings. In most cases, these alternatives will supplement, not replace, a written report. One possible alternative presentation form is the creation of TV or radio documentaries, which can be particularly powerful and useful in reaching illiterate parts of the population.

A commission can choose to

  • Use alternative forms of presentation, or

  • Not use alternative forms of presentation

Media coverage

The media coverage that the presentation of a commission's report receives creates public knowledge concerning past human rights abuses. The commission can actively encourage media coverage by providing media friendly information. The extent and breadth of coverage, though, also depends on the general political climate in a given country.

Choices concerning media coverage of the report/ findings are:

  • Whether or not to have media coverage

  • Whether to have intensive or limited media coverage

  • Whether to have ongoing or short-term media coverage, and

  • Whether to have local, national, and/ or international media coverage

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