Last Reviewed 30 May 2012
Strategic Choices in the Design of Truth Commissions

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 Design Factors
 -Political Context


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Design Factors >

The resources (material as well as human) of a commission are important prerequisites for its operational effectiveness. The number, qualification and reputation of a commission's staff, as well as the money, equipment and time allocated for their work will effect how many cases will be investigated, the depth of these investigations, and the geographic scope of the investigations, to name but a few.

The following types of resources are instrumental for a commission's smooth functioning:


While the commissioners appointed to a commission are often more visible in the public's eye, most victims (and perpetrators) who offer testimony will interact with a commission's staff. It is therefore important that this staff is numerous enough to take on the task of investigating past human rights abuses - the more comprehensive an investigation, the more staff is likely to be needed. It is also important that the staff is trusted to be impartial and qualified (by professional background or training) to carry out their task.

The choices associated with the staff component are:

  • the number of staff available

  • the national or international composition of the staff

  • the professional training of the staff


How much money there is for a commission's work, who supplies it, how fast and reliable it is in arriving - all of these factors affect the efficiency, effectiveness and credibility of a commission. The level of funding for a given commission is likely to affect the number of qualified staff that can be hired, the amount of data and testimony that can be processed and investigated, the quality of technical equipment, and the mobility of commissioners and staff to travel all across the country as well as abroad to gather testimony.

The most important choices with respect to funding a commission are:

  • the size of the budget (#s), and

  • who will provide the funding (government/ national NGOs/ international NGOs/ international organization (UN)/ international community)


'Equipment' of a commission encompasses a host of enabling factors: the number and location of offices a commission operates; the technical equipment (ranging from telephones and computers to a car park); the transportation services for commissioners and staff to travel within a country and abroad. Better equipment for a commission translates into better accessibility of the investigators for victims (and perpetrators) of past human rights abuses. Better accessibility in turn translates into credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness for the commission's work.

Equipment for a commission has to be chosen in three distinct domains:

  • locations,

  • communications, and

  • transportation


The time frame that is set for a commission's work can be seen as a valuable resource. A generous time frame allows for in depth investigation, which lends credibility to the endeavor. Lack of a deadline, on the other hand, can prevent any conclusions or recommendations to emerge. A highly restrictive and inflexible time frame puts enormous pressure on a commission and can limit the value attached to its findings. The time of operations has to be well tailored to the scope of the investigation and the ultimate purpose of a truth commission.

The choice to be made for the time component is straightforward:

  • how many months (or years) will the commission be in operation

Changes over time

The stability of resources (especially financial, human and technical resources) is important for the quality of the commission's work. The more time and energy it has to dedicate to secure its operations, the less it will have to spend on the actual investigations.

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