What are truth commissions?
Truth commissions are nonjudicial, independent panels of inquiry typically set up to establish the facts and context of serious violations of human rights or of international humanitarian law in a country’s past. The commissions’ members are usually empowered to conduct research, support victims and propose policy recommendations to prevent recurrence of crimes. Through their investigations, the commissions may aim to discover and learn more about past abuses, or formally acknowledge them. They may aim to prepare the way for prosecutions and recommend institutional reforms. Most commissions focus on victims’ needs as a path toward reconciliation and reducing conflict over the past.
Truth commissions have been established on every populated continent in efforts to address mass crimes, consolidate the rule of law and promote reconciliation. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the most famous example. That commission is the only one that has granted amnesties to perpetrators who disclose their crimes.