A Comparative Study of World's Truth Commissions—From Madness to Hope

Professor Bishnu Pathak


The objective of this paper is to explore the initiatives and practices of different countries in truth seeking. Many countries during the post-conflict, colonial, slavery, anarchical and cultural genocide periods establish the Truth Commissions to respond to the past human wrongdoings: crimes and crimes against humanity. Enforced Disappearances (ED), killings, rapes and inhumane tortures are wrongdoings. Truth Commission applies the method of recovering silences from the victims for structured testimonies. The paper is prepared based on the victim-centric approach. The purpose reveals the piecemeal fact-findings to heal the past, reconcile the present and protect the future. The study covers more than 50 Commissions in a chronological order: beginning from Uganda in 1974 and concluding to Nepal in February 2015. Two Commissions in Uruguay were formed to find-out enforced disappearances. Colombian and Rwandan Commissions have established permanent bodies. The Liberian TRC threatened the government to submit its findings to the ICC if the government failed to establish an international tribunal. The Commissions of Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, former Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe were disbanded, and consequently, their reports could not be produced. No public hearings were conducted in Argentina and former Yugoslavia. It is noted that only 8 public hearings in Ghana, 8 national hearings in East-Timor and 15 in Brazil were conducted. Moroccan Commission held public hearings after signing the bond paper for not to disclose the names of the perpetrators whereas Guatemala did not include the perpetrators' names in the report. The Shining Path's activists are serving sentences based on civil-anti-terrorist court, but Alberto Fujimori is convicted for 25 years. Chadian Commission worked even against illicit narcotics trafficking. The UN established its Commissions in Sierra Leon, El Salvador and East-Timor, but failed to restore normalcy in Kosovo. Haiti prosecuted 50 perpetrators whereas Guatemala prosecuted its former military dictator. The Philippines' Commission had limited investigation jurisdiction over army, but treated the insurgents differently. In El Salvador, the State security forces were responsible for 85 percent and the non-state actors for 15 percent similar to CIEDP, Nepal. The TRCs of Argentina, East-Timor, Guatemala, Morocco, Peru and South Africa partially succeeded. Large numbers of victims have failed to register the complaints fearing of possible actions. All perpetrators were controversially granted amnesty despite the TRC recommendation in South Africa. The victims and people still blamed Mandela that he sold out black people's struggle. Ironically, the perpetrators have received justice, but the victims are further victimized. As perpetrator-centric Government prioritizes cronyism, most of the Commissioners defend their respective institution and individuals. Besides, perpetrators influence Governments on the formation of Truth Commission for 'forgetting the victims to forgive the perpetrators'. A commission is a Court-liked judicial and non-judicial processes body, but without binding authority except Sierra Leone. Transitional Justice body exists with a five-pillar policy: truth, justice, healing, prosecution and reparation. It has a long neglected history owing to anarchical roles of the perpetrators and weak-poor nature of the victims. Almost all TRCs worked in low budget, lack of officials, inadequate laws and regulations, insufficient infrastructures and constraints of moral supports including Liberia, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda and Nepal. The perpetrators controlled Governments ordered to destroy documents, evidences and testimonies in their chain of command that could have proven guilty to them.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22158/wjssr.v4n3p192


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