Geneva, June 18, 2014 – Truth commissions can make important contributions to peace processes if all parties can agree on common objectives and there is genuine local political will to shed light on past events. This is the key finding of a new study – titled “Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes?” – to be released on 19 June 2014 by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
“In our experience in the fields of peace mediation and transitional justice, we have become convinced that truth is a fundamental element of peace,” David Tolbert, President of ICTJ, said. “The cause of peace will not be served if truth commissions are set up to provide impunity to perpetrators of the worst crimes. On the contrary, truth commissions contribute more significantly to peace when they are rooted in rights-based policies and access to justice.”
The cooperation of peace mediators and transitional justice practitioners is necessary because truth commissions are being increasingly proposed and established in the context of peace processes. Bypassing truth or the rights of victims can become a factor of fragility in peace processes.
Yet truth commissions are no panacea for a divided society, the study finds. High expectations without investing the required resources and meeting the criteria of independence, legitimacy, and clearly articulated aims that all parties work towards may hinder peace processes, rather than accelerate them.
“Truth commissions can have catalytic effects in peace processes so long as they are truly independent, legitimate and recognize the victim’s right to know the truth,” Ruth McCoy, Executive Director at the Kofi Annan Foundation said. “Half efforts will not do”.
“Truth commissions must be adapted to the circumstances of each country,” Tolbert will say. “Conflicts and forms of resolution will naturally be different in places like Bosnia, Colombia, Nepal, and Northern Ireland. One-size-fits-all formulas, or mere imitations of past examples, are much less likely to succeed.”
The publication reports on the proceedings of the high-level symposium jointly organized by the Kofi Annan Foundation and ICTJ in November 2013. The symposium provided an opportunity for policy makers, practitioners, and scholars with significant experience in peacebuilding and transitional justice to discuss and reflect on truth commissions and the challenges of addressing accountability in peace negotiations.
The Government of Finland provided funding support for the symposium and the publication of the report.
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