Truth Commissions

January 2010 • Volume 4, Issue 1
Can countries heal after atrocities?
By Jina Moore


Then-South African President Nelson Mandela accepts the final report (AFP/Getty Images/Walter Dhladhla)
Then-South African President Nelson Mandela (left) accepts the voluminous final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission from panel chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1998. The panel has become the gold standard of truth commissions for its ability to avoid violence and reunite South Africans after the fall of the apartheid regime. (AFP/Getty Images/Walter Dhladhla)

After war and unspeakable violence, countries around the world face the challenge of moving forward while dealing with the past. But what should justice look like? From Bosnia to Burundi, from Argentina to Timor-Leste, millions of people around the world have been brutalized by genocide, torture, kidnappings and disappearances of loved ones — often at the hands of their own governments and countrymen. Today countries have a variety of legal options, known as transitional justice, including truth commissions — official panels that investigate atrocities and create authoritative records of past abuses. Truth-telling can foster social healing and reconciliation, supporters say, but early research suggests that results have been mixed. Other countries seek justice through international trials or tribunals. In the end, justice — however it is sought — seeks to expose the truth, protect human rights and pave a path to democracy.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in War
Sep. 16, 2022  The War in Ukraine
Jul. 13, 2012  Privatizing the Military
Aug. 06, 2010  Drone Warfare Updated
May 2010  Confronting Rape as a War Crime
Jan. 2010  Truth Commissions
Feb. 27, 2009  Closing Guantánamo Updated
Jul. 2008  Child Soldiers
Sep. 2007  Torture Debate
Aug. 25, 2006  Treatment of Detainees
Apr. 18, 2003  Torture
Dec. 13, 2002  Ethics of War
Sep. 13, 2002  New Defense Priorities
Jul. 07, 1995  War Crimes
Apr. 26, 1972  Status of War Prisoners
Oct. 07, 1970  Military Justice
Jul. 12, 1967  Treatment of War Prisoners
Dec. 03, 1952  War Prisoner Repatriation
Sep. 07, 1948  War Trials and Future Peace
Jul. 07, 1945  Enemy Property
Nov. 20, 1943  Courts-Martial and Military Law
Mar. 15, 1943  War Guilt Trials
Mar. 30, 1942  War Atrocities
Feb. 02, 1942  Prisoners of War
Aug. 11, 1938  Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations
Conflicts in Africa
Global Issues