Source: (2014) Virginia Journal of International Law. 54(2):223-294.

Many societies have had to deal with issues of truth and punishment following a period of massive human rights violations. This Article evaluates the search for justice in the aftermath of atrocities in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia by examining each country's approach to truth-telling and punishment. It demonstrates that scholars and practitioners have miplaced confidence in the ability of truth commissions and trials to contribute towards restorative, retributive, expressive, and utilitarian goals. It assesses the contribution of these mechanisms to their stated objectives from the perpectives of victims and the affected societies by using data gathered from field research. This Article finds that the combined use of truth and punishment mechanisms can produce mutually reinforing effects on each mechanism ' ability to carry out its stated objectives. It argues that it is critical to limit the number of goals to which truth commissions and trials can reasonably be expected to contribute, as opposed to burdening them with multiple objectives, thereby creating unattainable expectations. Finally, this Article concludes that each institution should focus on its comparative advantage and pay careful attention to the messages sent regarding what the commission or trial can actually be expected to accomplish. (author's abstract)