Source: (2008) Occasional Paper 164. Tshwane (Pretoria): Institute for Security Studies.

The second round of Zimbabwe’s presidential election is scheduled for the end of June 2008. There has been a sharp increase in state sponsored violence since the first round in March (ICG May 2008), coming after almost a decade marked by violence, intimidation and impunity for which the state itself has been primarily responsible. One of the principal issues for any future political transition will be whether – and how – to formally and publicly deal with past systematic and widespread human rights abuses. This is moreover a core political issue now, not simply a collateral legal or moral one to be left until later. Part of the challenge is to map a way between sheer moral and legal principle and mere political pragmatism (Emmanuel 2007). One transitional justice option is to now flag, and then later establish, a truth and reconciliation commission which might give incentives to people at various levels to denounce violence and cooperate in peacebuilding, but which need not rule out criminal prosecutions where appropriate. Against the backdrop of an international legal and normative framework which may shape justice options, the first part of this paper addresses the question ‘why a truth commission?’ We suggest that Zimbabwe’s particular experiences necessitate a national truth commission as a viable or necessary option in providing sure conditions and foundations for a peaceable future. The second part of the paper then addresses some considerations relating to how to establish such a formal process, drawing on others’ experience. Of course, the question ‘how might a commission look?’ is (or should be) inextricably linked with the question ‘why have a commission anyway – what exactly is it for?’ (excerpt)