Source: (2009) Research Brief. June. New York: Center for Transitional Justice.

Truth commissions can provide a stage for a potentially powerful encounter with the past (and present) at the level of public discourse. While their capacity to effect transformation in societies marked by patterns of identity-related marginalization and exclusion is limited (and the expectation that they should do so is unrealistic), their engagement with citizenship issues in particular can open significant discursive space for new public positions and forms of agency. In particular, we argue that truth-telling initiatives are vehicles through which “acts of citizenship” may be performed, especially by those historically marginalized—acts that may prefigure different identities and altered power relations. Political power and contestation, as well as their particular histories, are at the center of the ways in which identities are formed and mobilized. Thus, truth-telling initiatives, which are generally part of new alignments and struggles to reorganize power, may disrupt existing identifications. The acts of citizenship to which they can give rise may not redistribute power among groups on the political level, but they can do so symbolically by calling attention to power inequalities. (excerpt)