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Spring 2024 Reading Group

Exploring Truth Commissions

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Since the 1980s, societies emerging from civil conflict or brutal dictatorship have increasingly turned to the truth commission model to help them deal with past atrocities and widespread human rights violations. Dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have established truth commissions to help them deal with their violent pasts and chart better, more peaceful and more democratic futures. They adopt these transitional justice mechanisms because their regular justice systems are inadequate to deal with the scale of human rights violations committed, provide reasonable redress to victims, or promote reconciliation and healing.

Truth commission mandates are usually limited to relatively short periods of time ranging from a few months to a few years, and are restricted to specific episodes or events in the recent past. They generally have as their key objectives to discover the truth of what happened, identify the key perpetrators, facilitate justice for victims (including reparations), promote reconciliation and healing, and recommend institutional reforms and the prosecution of those found most responsible for human rights violations. Their ultimate goal is to help ensure that what happened in the past never happens again (Never Again).

In this reading group, we will embark upon a comprehensive, multidimensional examination of these complex and controversial transitional justice mechanisms. We will look at the contexts from which they emerge, their potential for helping societies deal with their violent pasts and chart better futures, the very complex debates and challenges that characterize their establishment and operations, and the extent of their successes and/or failures in achieving their aims and objectives. Our readings and discussions will aim to link theory with real life case studies and practices, and challenge us to think of possible alternative tools and mechanisms, or of better ways of doing truth commission work within existing frameworks.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: March 5 to April 16, 2024.