A new report by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Kofi Annan Foundation explores common assumptions about why truth commissions are created in the wake of internal armed conflict and what factors make them more likely to succeed – or fail. Recognizing that there is no universal formula to fit every situation, the study does not propose a new set of principles or best practices, but calls for well-informed analysis of local conditions to drive effective truth seeking.
The new study – titled “Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes?” – will be released on June 19, 2014, at a public presentation jointly hosted by ICTJ and the Kofi Annan Foundation, at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva.
The speakers will be David Tolbert, President of ICTJ, and Ruth McCoy, Executive Director of the Kofi Annan Foundation. The discussant will be Frank Halderman, Professor of Law, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Discussions will be moderated by Päivi Kairamo, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, Geneva.
According to the study, despite the expanding knowledge on truth commissions and how they operate, some recent truth commissions have undergone near-paralyzing crises. In Kenya, for example, a disputed appointment to the chairperson of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission led to extended litigation and jeopardized the credibility of the entire truth-seeking process.
“Sustainable peace requires more than agreements between leaders. It requires institutions that are worthy of trust, that pursue guarantees for the rights of victims,” said Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
The publication also reports on the proceedings of the high-level symposium jointly organized by the two groups in November 2013, titled “Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Effectively Contribute to Peace Processes?” Those discussions emphasized the need for creativity and flexibility in how the legal mandates of truth commissions are drafted and interpreted.
Five case studies in the report examine past truth commissions across regions and timeframes, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, and Sierra Leone. They highlight some of the critical phases of nonjudicial truth seeking, as each commission experienced difficulties at different points in the process.
The new study is aimed at practitioners working in the field, particularly mediators who envisage truth seeking as part of a peacebuilding process and need to know what challenges their proposals may face. It will also be useful to human rights defenders and victims’ activists who are anxious to ensure that a peace settlement does not sacrifice victims’ rights for the sake of political convenience.
“The hope is that these reflections will assist in the decision-making process that negotiators and peace-builders face in a variety of contexts now” said Tolbert. “Readers will find strong cautions, but also strong arguments in favor of justice and accountability.”
The publication and symposium received funding support from the Government of Finland.