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Truth Commissions: Institutional Strategies for Trust Construction and Conflict Management

Kulkarni, Anu
June 4, 2015

Source: (1999) Paper presented at the “TRC: Commissioning the Past” conference, organized by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the History Workshop (at Wits University). University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, 11-14 June 1999. Downloaded 10 March 2004.

The problem of how to deal with a past of human rights abuses in societies transitioning from authoritarian rule or civil strife towards more democratic governing structures is becoming more widespread. Conflicts over issues of justice, memory and accountability precede social reconciliation and the building of viable institutions. Truth commissions have emerged as institutional approaches to deal with some of these issue conflicts. However, in the relevant literatures, there is no coherent theoretical framework by which this type of institution can be analyzed and explained. This paper conceptualizes the underlying obstacle to effective conflict management and institution-building as one of the absence of individual trust, both in other individuals as well as in existing institutions. It is argued that truth commissions represent institutional conflict management strategies towards trust construction. Information recovery and distribution; identification with international standards; and, signaling are identified as potential means by which truth commissions potentially contribute to the reconstruction of trust-based interaction and conflict management in post-crisis states. The ideas set out in the paper are applied to the case of South Africa and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Author’s abstract.


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