Truth and Reconciliation

Truth and Reconciliation

In this article, we shall discuss Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the context of international relations. We shall examine what is a truth and reconciliation commission, and how that differs from a domestic or international court or tribunal.

What is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a commission that is organized in order to find out information what events that have transpired in the past. Often, truth and reconciliations are formed in countries that have just gotten out of a civil war, or have experienced systematic human rights violations in the society. In terms of the history of truth commissions, there have been many cases in which countries have decided on establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. In fact, one of the debates in societies is whether to establish a truth commission, or whether to establish some form of domestic tribunals or courts to hear cases against those accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of genocide.

As 2009 (4) explains (referencing Hayer), “First, truth commissions investigate past human rights abuses. They do not focus on on-going human rights abuses like a human rights ombudsman might. Second, truth commissions examine a pattern of human rights abuses over time rather than a specific event. Third, truth commissions are temporary bodies. Finally, truth commissions are official bodies sanctioned, authorized, or empowered by the state…”.

What are the benefits of a truth and reconciliation commission?

Those that advocate truth and reconciliation commissions as a post-conflict or post-rights abuse approach argue that there are many benefits of choosing these commissions. Hayer (1994) points out the various positives that such commissions can offer, saying: Truth commissions can play a critical role in a country struggling to come to terms with a history of massive human rights crimes. A number of the commissions outlined here have been notable successes: their investigations welcomed by survivors of the violence and by human rights advocates alike, their reports widely read, their summary of facts considered conclusive and fair. Such commissions are often referred to as serving a “cathartic” affect in society, as fulfilling the important step of formally acknowledging a long-silenced past. But not all truth commissions have been so successful. Some have been significantly limited from a full and fair accounting of the past-limited by mandate, by political constraints or restricted access to information, or by a basic lack of resources, for example-and have reported only a narrow slice of the “truth.”In some cases truth commission final reports have been kept confidential.”



Brahm, E. (2009). What is a Truth Commission and Why Does it Matter? Peace and Conflict Review, Vol. 3, Issue 2, pages 1-14.

Hayer, P. (1994). Fifteen Truth Commissions–1974 to 1994: A Comparative Study. Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, pages 597-655.

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