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Timing truth, reconciliation, and justice after war

Braithwaite, John
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution Vol. 27:3

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs),’ particularly since the
influence of Desmond Tutu’s South African Commission,2 are increasingly
used to discover and reveal past wrongdoings following armed conflicts. 3
They are often established with a requirement to report within two or three
years.4 A problem with such speedy reporting is that the most traumatized victims often take longest to be ready to participate in transitional justice.5
The experience of the civil war in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, also
demonstrates that it often takes many years of traditional reconciliation work
before perpetrators of the worst atrocities acquire the confidence that they
can confess their crimes without fear of revenge.6 It will be explained in this
lecture that collective confessions (by military units) often preceded
individual confessions of war crimes. So how should we think about the
sequencing of truth, justice, and reconciliation after war? The lecture makes a
case for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that are permanent
institutions,7 keeping their doors open to assist with truth, reconciliation, and
justice at whatever point in time victims and perpetrators are emotionally
ready. By the time all of the survivors have died, the TRC may function as no
more than a museum that stores their testimony and the artifacts of suffering,


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