Last Reviewed 30 May 2002
Strategic Choices in the Design of Truth Commissions

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Learning from Existing Commissions to Inform Future Efforts

Search for Common Ground

Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

European Centre for Common Ground
Welcome to the Truth Commissions Project, a collaboration between the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School , Search for Common Ground (an international NGO based in Washington, D.C.), and the European Centre for Common Ground (in Brussels). We have combined our resources and interests to identify the best research that has been done to date on five key Truth Commissions, and to present it in a format that will be usable by decision-makers in designing future Commissions. We have drawn on a variety of sources for the data presented on this website, all of which are listed in our bibliography. We would like to particularly note the ground-breaking work of Neil Kritz at the U.S. Institute of Peace (editor of Transitional Justice, a three volume set published by USIP Press in 1995) and Priscilla Hayner (author of "Fifteen Truth Commissions - 1974-1994: A Comparative Study." Human Rights Quarterly, Vol 16, 1994). These two researchers have published the most comprehensive material available on Truth Commissions, and we have drawn much of the data from them. [*]

The primary purpose of our project is to make a portion of the literature on Truth Commissions available in a readable and concise form to decision makers around the world who are contemplating the launch of their own commission. Putting a Commission together is a daunting task, one that can benefit greatly from knowing what has been done elsewhere and, where evaluation has been done, seeing what impact previous efforts have had. We hope that this interactive website will provide a useful reference point in the design process. Rather than try to summarize all of the data on every Commission that has existed, we have chosen instead to provide more comprehensive information on five of the most successful and most studied truth commissions. These are: Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and South Africa. We will be continuing to update the material on the site as more studies are done. If you are aware of new data that is not included here and should be, please contact us and let us know.

We have organized the material around key issues that each of these five Commissions had to confront. Those issues are listed on the lefthand side of each page and are labeled "Design Factors." By clicking on each of the factors, the user is then shown the design questions that will have to be addressed within that design factor, along with the choices that previous Commission designers have made. It is possible to call up a chart for each design factor that shows a comparison of the choices made by each of the five previous Commissions. There is also a background piece on each of the five Commissions, to provide some historical context. Evaluation of the impacts of these Commissions is just beginning, and we will soon be including one study that was done of impacts on victim healing. We will incorporate the results of further studies as they become available.

We have provided our own bibliography, as well as a link to a more extensive bibliography that is available on-line. We also have provided links to sites that offer more in-depth information on each of the five Commissions.

We welcome your feedback as you peruse this site. Our goal is to make this data user-friendly for both decision-makers and researchers. However, we strongly believe that great care must be taken in Truth Commission design, and that these data are only the raw materials on which to draw. Decision-makers should use this data in the context of a well-articulated design process, in which they define the goals and needs of their society and make choices accordingly. We are available to assist in creating such a process, and in making the best use of the data presented here.

* The primary research for this project was done by Beatrix Schmelzle and Liza Chambers as their Master's theses at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, under the direction of Professor Eileen Babbitt of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Ms. Chambers also provided the research data on victim healing.

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