Source: (2009) Law and Contemporary Problems. 72(2):123-141.

But are truth commissions effective? Of course, the first part of the answer to this question requires an answer to an earlier query: Effective at what? Can a truth commission create a democratic political system? Probably not. Can it erase a history of intense political conflict, bringing all sides together in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation? Surely not. But, to lower our expectations, can a truth commission contribute to a collective memory for a society, providing at least some common understanding of a country’s conflictual past, including some appreciation of the motives of “the enemy”? Can a truth commission contribute to the development of a rule-of-law culture that respects human rights and thereby raises the costs of future efforts to violate the human rights of the citizenry? Can a truth commission advance political tolerance, a central component of a democratic political culture and a necessary ingredient for coexistence? The answers to these questions, while still subject to considerable disagreement and debate, are most likely that, under at least some conditions and to at least a limited degree, truth commissions can indeed contribute to societal transformation. (excerpt)


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