Source: (2014) Virginia Journal of International Law. 54(2):223-294.
Many societies have had to deal with issues of truth and punishment following
a period of massive human rights violations. This Article evaluates the
search for justice in the aftermath of atrocities in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and
Liberia by examining each country’s approach to truth-telling and punishment.
It demonstrates that scholars and practitioners have miplaced confidence in the
ability of truth commissions and trials to contribute towards restorative, retributive,
expressive, and utilitarian goals. It assesses the contribution of these
mechanisms to their stated objectives from the perpectives of victims and the affected
societies by using data gathered from field research. This Article finds
that the combined use of truth and punishment mechanisms can produce mutually
reinforing effects on each mechanism ‘ ability to carry out its stated objectives.
It argues that it is critical to limit the number of goals to which truth
commissions and trials can reasonably be expected to contribute, as opposed to
burdening them with multiple objectives, thereby creating unattainable expectations.
Finally, this Article concludes that each institution should focus on its comparative advantage and pay careful attention to the messages sent regarding
what the commission or trial can actually be expected to accomplish. (author’s abstract)
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