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The Truth of Truth Commissions: Comparative Lessons from Haiti, South Africa, and Guatemala

Chapman, Audrey R
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) Human Rights Quarterly. 23: 1–43

At the outset of this paper, Audrey Chapman and Patrick Ball remark upon the twentieth century’s legacy of gross human rights violations and mass atrocities in country after country. At the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, many countries have established truth commissions or similar entities to address past evils and to promote healing and reconciliation in their societies. Truth commissions provide an alternative or third way to two other possible responses – namely, prosecutorial processes (e.g., the Nuremberg trials and the prospective International Criminal Court) or blanket amnesty. Given the importance often assigned to truth commissions, Chapman and Ball emphasize the need to inquire into the nature of the “truthâ€? that such commissions are mandated to find. The documentation and interpretation of truth, they assert, is more complex and ambiguous than many proponents of truth commissions assume. With examples from Haiti, South Africa, and Guatemala, Chapman and Ball consider some of the complexities and factors shaping the effort of truth commission, and they evaluate the kinds of truths that such commissions can most appropriately seek to determine.


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