Source: (2006) In, Tristan Anne Borer, editor, Telling the Truths: Truth Telling and Peace Building in Post- Conflict Societies. Notre Dame: University Of Notre Dame Press. pp.207-229

This chapter argues that past truth commissions have been restricted in their ability to prevent future violence for two reasons. First, there is a lack of understanding among policy makers and the architects of truth commissions about the impact of massive trauma. Truth commissions have been more preoccupied with description and looking for causal links than with focusing on the meaning and context of what they uncover in the past and present. Second, truth commissions reinforce “artificial breaks” in history (an time) rather than looking for the overlaps and continuities of the changing nature of violence. I argue that the debates concerning the process and structure of truth commissions need to be grounded in a more detailed understanding of the social and psychological complexity underlying their development. In addition, I highlight the importance of victims in truth commissions and make a case for more careful and complex consideration of their role. Finally, I argue that it is the study of the relationship between the individual and the collective that holds the key to improving (or at least fully understanding) the impact of truth commissions and, thus, to improve their ability to understand and prevent violence in the long term. In doing so, I focus closely on the example of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (excerpt)