ICTJ Forum Series on Truth Commissions and Peace Mediation: Ron Slye



In the latest episode of the ICTJ Forum, Professor and former Kenya TJRC Commissioner Ron Slye shares insights on truth commissions, accountability and peace processes.


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In this interview with ICTJ’s Hannah Dunphy, Professor Slye discusses evolving trends in the development of truth commissions, from early roots in Chile, Argentina and South Africa, to today’s discussion around potential truth commissions, such as Colombia.

Slye also reflects upon the difficulties facing peace talks as they negotiate amnesty and accountability.

“As you sit down with warring factions, there’s a negotiation that occurs in terms of what forms of accountability, if at all, are going to be acceptable, while you’re also trying to get people to stop killing or stop engaging in armed conflict,” he says.

He says that it is more and more clear that amnesties, even if all of the parties to a particular negotiation agree to them, will not be sustained.

“As negotiator, even if someone is pushing for an amnesty, it seems to me now one can say, whether genuinely or not, ‘I would like to agree to give you amnesty. However, I don’t have power over these other processes. And so you need to understand even if we’re able to agree to some sort of amnesty for you here in this room, we can’t guarantee that other institutions will recognize and give effect to that amnesty.’”

Slye was part of a group of international criminal law experts that recently developed the Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability, a project which grew out of the recognition of what he calls “grey area” around acceptable pardons for past crimes.

“The purpose was to provide some sort of guidance to negotiators and others with respect to what would be a more acceptable form of amnesty and what would be a clearly an unacceptable or even illegal form,” he says.

In discussing the work of the Kenya Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Slye explains how the commissioners dealt with the broad and ambitious mandate of the commission, which was expected to address violations of civil and political rights, socioeconomic rights, and corruption. Of the final report of the TJRC, he says he hopes that the government will read the report, and move to implement some of its recommendations.

“I do hope that, if it’s not today or tomorrow, that a few years from now, or whatever that time period may be when there’s more openness to dealing with these issues on the part of the Kenya government, that they will take down our report from the shelf that they store it at to read it, reflect upon it, and find something useful in it.”