Reconciliation as a Goal of TRCs Globally

Beginning with the first truth commission created in Uganda in 1974, there have been at least 40 commissions created in total up until 2010 (Hayner 2011). In her empirical study about the goals that TRCs seek to achieve, Guthrey (2015) found that 25 of these 40 commissions intended to pursue some type of reconciliation at their onset, illustrating the prevalence of this goal in such institutions. In general, reconciliation was offered in TRC mandates with little explanation about what it would look like or what steps would be taken to realize it. Even so, the way in which reconciliation is described within these mandates has been quite diverse, which illustrates the need to further understand the various dimensions of this concept.

Several TRCs, such as those created in El Salvador (Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993), Ghana (National Reconciliation Commission, 2002), Haiti (National Commission for Truth and Justice, 1995), and Peru (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2001) indicate only the intention to secure ‘national reconciliation.’ Togo’s TRC (2009) mandate mentions the goal of ‘reinforcing’ national reconciliation, which suggests that reconciliation had already begun to take place. Equally vague, commissions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2004), Kenya (Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, 2009), and Morocco (National Commission for Truth, Equity and Reconciliation, 2004) mention the pursuit of ‘national unity.’ The Moroccan Commission did, however, also highlight that related to pursuing reconciliation it intended to enrich the culture of dialogue in order to lay the foundations of reconciliation, in this way illustrating a partial conception of what it would take to achieve such a goal. Other commissions have also been slightly more explicit in how they view reconciliation. The commission in Guatemala (Historical Clarification Commission, 1995), for example, advocated for the encouragement of ‘peace and national harmony’ and to ‘foster a culture of mutual respect,’ which suggests an understanding of the need to recognize the value and experiences of one another in order to secure reconciliation.

The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2006) gave a more focused illustration of how reconciliation would be achieved in the provision stating that the Commission was created ‘in order to create a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation’ as well as ‘addressing concerns and recommending measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations in the spirit of national reconciliation and healing.’ Hence, more consideration was paid to the importance of developing a historical narrative and dealing with victim needs in order to foment reconciliation. The South African TRC (1995) similarly demonstrated an understanding of the need to uncover the truth about the past, seen in the statement about the TRC’s objective to ‘promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past by establishing as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human rights which were committed’—as a precursor to reconciling the society.

Overall, the description of reconciliation as a TRC goal is largely general and ambiguous in TRC mandates. Several commissions have illustrated cognizance of how reconciliation may be realized, which then makes it more possible to understand its meaning in the context of these processes; however, an explicit roadmap to detail the path toward reconciliation has been less frequently delineated. Providing a more finely tuned roadmap that details how reconciliation should be achieved is integral to successfully fulfilling this goal.

There is an urgent need to examine the success, or otherwise, of TRCs in living up to their goals. Monitoring and evaluation has become a central part of many peacebuilding efforts, but is only beginning to emerge as a norm in the truth commission arena. It is promising that a growing body of literature in transitional justice is becoming concerned with the effects of TRCs. Increasingly, studies have been conducted to investigate the impacts of TRCs, for example, large-N studies have looked at cross-national trends concerning the impact of TRCs on human rights and democracy (Wiebelhaus-Brahm 2010; Olsen et al. 2010); country- level effects have been studied concerning, for example, truth commission impact on societal reconciliation (Gibson 2006) or psychological health (Brouneus 2010); and case study investigations of local-level promises and pitfalls of TRCs have brought deeper insights of the dynamics on the ground (Guthrey 2015; Jeffery 2013; Ross 2010; Stanley 2004, 2009; Ainley et al. 2015a). Recent studies have also discussed the relationship between local and cultural dynamics and TRC success (Guthrey 2016; Hirsch et al. 2012; Friedman 2015). In an overview of the scholarship on TRC impact, Onur Bakiner concludes that most TRCs have contributed to some extent to political and judicial impact (e.g., concerning human rights accountability)—albeit to highly varying degrees (Bakiner 2013).

This chapter taps into the literature on impact by providing a finegrained analysis of what dimensions of the prominent TRC goal of reconciliation were fulfilled. By undertaking such an analysis, we aim to begin teasing out the different possible pathways that lead to TRC ‘success.’ Recent studies aimed at evaluating transitional justice with a focus on the case of Sierra Leone have suggested a number of factors that may be the downfall of TRCs (Ainley et al. 2015a). First, that a TRC is modeled too much on other commissions (Ainley et al. 2015b). As one can see the above TRC goals across various commissions are highly similar to one another, which does not take into account the specific cultural context and nature of the conflict in each country. Next, failure may result when a TRC focuses too much on goals at the macro-level without taking into account the micro-level dimensions of these goals (see, e.g., Friedman 2015). In many cases, reconciliation is a micro-level process that should occur on a local level between aggrieved parties. This means that judging the efficacy of reconciliation as a TRC goal should not be assessed from a macro-perspective, as it is in reality not a macro-level goal. Lastly, related to the previous point, a TRC may fall short of success when it is not inclusive and participatory and fails to facilitate dialogue (see, e.g., Mahony & Sooka 2015). Given that ownership and legitimacy are important for reconciliation to occur (Friedman 2015), TRC processes must take into account needs and views from the local level, of those parties most affected by past conflict (Vella: this volume; Mollica: this volume). As reconciliation has the potential to prevent repetition through the changing of relationships and attitudes, laying out a roadmap for reconciliation, as conceived of by the local population may make the occurrence of future abuses less likely. Taking the above points into consideration, we conceptualize TRC ‘success’ as being more likely to occur when the process is (1) culturally adapted to the local context and realities, (2) provides an inclusive and participatory space conducive to initiating a process reconciliation, (3) facilitates the process of reconciliation (i.e. changing from destructive to constructive interactions) at the local, micro-level— between former enemies. We will revisit these points in relation to our analysis of the Solomon Islands TRC below.

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