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Truth-Seeking, Truth-Telling, and Postconflict Peacebuilding: Curb the Enthusiasm?

Mendeloff, David
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) International Studies Review. 6: 355–380.

This essay evaluates popular and scholarly claims about the peace-promoting
benefits of formal truth-telling and truth-seeking mechanisms
in the aftermath of civil wars. Its purpose is twofold. First, it
synthesizes and clearly articulates in one place the full range of claims
about the relationship between truth-telling and peacebuilding. Second,
it evaluates these claims by systematically examining the core factual and
theoretical assumptions on which they are based. An argument is made
that many such claims–and their core assumptions–are flawed or
highly contentious as well as that truth-telling advocates claim far more
about the power of truth-telling than logic or evidence dictates. This is
not to say that truth-telling has no role to play in preventing the resumption
of violent conflict in postwar societies, only that proponents
likely overstate its importance. Before proclaiming the necessity of truth
commissions or trials in the aftermath of violent conflict, we need to
better understand how truth-telling prevents the recurrence of civil war,
how important it is relative to other factors and other peacebuilding
strategies, and when it is likely to prove helpful, harmful, or irrelevant. Author’s abstract.


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