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Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes?

July 30, 2014

In the light of actual practice, the symposium reexamined assumptions about how truth commissions may be established and what makes them operate effectively. Participants wanted to take seriously a rule that is often expressed, but not always applied: there is no universal formula to fit every possible scenario.

Therefore, this report does not aim to substitute current standards with new ones. It is instead a call for well-informed analysis of concrete situations, distinguishing between those elements in truth seeking that are smart policy suggestions (prudent and effective in certain contexts but not always transferable to others) and those that constitute clear human rights obligations.

The reflections in this report may be useful for specific readers: first, peace advocates and supporters of negotiated settlements who envision truth-seeking as part of a peacebuilding process and need to know what challenges their proposals are likely to face, from inception to implementation. Second, human rights defenders and victims’ activists who are anxious to ensure that peace settlements and other forms of political agreement do not sacrifice victims’ rights for the sake of convenience. Third, international organizations and agencies making decisions on whether to support processes that are always fraught with risk, where ideal formulas are displaced by imperfect realities.

The report includes a summary of the topics examined at the symposium. Positions expressed are not attributed to individuals, as the discussion was conducted under Chatham House rules in order to facilitate candid exchanges based on direct, personal experience. Th e summary does not follow the structure of the agenda, but instead identifies the main issues that emerged at the symposium—particularly the challenges of creating effective truth commissions, the potential of commissions to consolidate peace, and practical responses to common challenges.

Download the full report.


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