Source: (2004) The Ecumenical Review. 56(4): 480-502.

In recent years, "truth commissions" have emerged in many countries which experienced transitions from oppressive political systems with mass human-rights violations to stable democracies and sound economic policies. These commissions have attempted to deal with past injustices in a manner that would ensure reconciliation and transformation to a better society. Of these, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) attracted worldwide attention due to the astonishing change brought about by a negotiated settlement without the bloody revolution many people inside and outside South Africa had feared. The few years that have passed after the publication of its report gives the researcher the opportunity to evaluate not only the findings but also the effects of this process on the diverse South African society. In the execution of their mandates these truth commissions encountered many questions which posed not only legal but also ethical questions. This is also true of the South African experience. The most important ethical questions are the following: • When can the process of truth-seeking and the exercise of justice be regarded as sufficient to serve the cause of reconciliation? • What kind of justice should be administered in such a process? • What is the essence of reconciliation in a socio-political context? • What about impunity and amnesty of former leaders in view of their human-rights violations? Most of all, what should the relation be between reconciliation and transformation in order to manifest restorative justice without putting unity at risk? • What are the core conditions for a sustainable peaceful and reconciled society, and what are the roles that the state and the church should play in this regard? The purpose of this article is to reflect on these questions from a Christian ethical perspective. (excerpt)