Strengthening Indigenous Rights through Truth Commissions: A Practitioner's Resource


Indigenous peoples live at a precarious intersection between unresolved historic injustices and the incursion of industry and political violence. Their communities are among those most affected by contemporary conflict. But when societies decide to confront the legacies of war, tyranny, or entrenched injustice, the experiences of indigenous people are often marginalized.

There is a growing trend to remedy this, however. Some truth commissions, such as in Peru, Guatemala, and Paraguay, addressed cases of violence against indigenous peoples in their work. Other emerging or current commissions—Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nepal—are mandated to investigate the contexts of similar abuse.

To further this trend, ICTJ has published a handbook offering guidance on planning truth commissions and commissions of inquiry that safeguard the interests of indigenous communities and address violations against them.

Strengthening Indigenous Rights Through Truth Commissions: A Practitioner's Resource, was developed from discussions during a July 2011 conference at ICTJ sponsored by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The conference bought together indigenous rights and truth commission experts, filmmakers, UN experts, academics, and ICTJ staff to discuss how truth–seeking measures can ensure compliance with the rights of indigenous peoples.

The product is a concise but wide-ranging collection of recommendations, essays, and practical considerations that span issues from establishing a commission’s mandate to guaranteeing the implementation of its recommendations.

Three experts contributed short essays to the handbook. Princeton University professor Deborah Yashar raises a range of questions on indigenous rights and examines what past commissions have, and have not, attempted to address. César Rodríguez-Garavito and Yukyan Lam of the Latin American Center for Law, Justice, and Society (DeJusticia), offer broader philosophical suggestions on how to address issues of land, territory, and natural resources. Consultant Paige Arthur explores how truth commissions have addressed the politically sensitive issues of self-determination.

The essays and the discussions offer comparative analysis of cases from Guatemala, Canada, Peru, Paraguay, South Africa, Nepal, New Zealand, Indonesia, Colombia, the United States, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Kenya.

The handbook concludes by presenting a range of considerations to be addressed at each stage of a commission’s life: deciding whether to establish a truth commission; evaluating the scope of the mandate; presenting issues that should be addressed during the establishment, operations, and reporting phases; and examining what should be addressed at the conclusion of a mandate. This publication was written to assist commissioners and transitional justice practitioners, but may also be useful for indigenous rights activists evaluating how transitional justice instruments could support their work.

To obtain a printed copy of the handbook, please contact Kelen Megerali, Program Associate, Truth and Memory Program at ICTJ,

Download the full publication.