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

Sponsorship/Act of Creation
 
The legitimacy of truth commissions is affected by the choice of sponsorship, by the timing of its establishment, and by the groups involved in its creation and design.

The components of sponsorship are the following:

By whom/under whose name the commission is established

Attempts at national reconciliation and truth telling after sustained periods of human rights abuses can be undertaken by a variety of actors. Most truth commissions to date have been established by the executive branch of the respective countries, most of the time by presidential decree. A minority has been established under the lead of the United Nations, or international human rights NGOs. Under whose name a commission is established has important consequences for its legitimacy, its access to official files, and its familiarity with the sensitive political situation of a country.

Designers of truth commissions can choose between the following sponsors:

  • Parliament

  • President

  • United Nations

  • Local NGOs

  • International NGOs



When the commission is established and how far back it reaches (timing)

In most cases, truth commissions are established on a wave of change, shortly after a new government has come into office or with the signing of peace accords. The more time passes between a change in regime and the establishment of a truth commission, the more difficult it usually is to gather broad support. The more time has passed between the establishment of a truth commission and the crimes that it investigates, on the other hand, the more difficult it is to gather evidence and interview witnesses.

There are several choices with respect to the timing of a commission's establishment:

  • immediately after a transition of regimes or delayed

  • complete or incomplete coverage of relevant periods, i.e. those in which most severe human rights abuses occurred



Whether and how the civil society is involved in creating and/or sponsoring the commission

Civil society actors can be involved in the creation of a truth commission at different times, on different levels and to different degrees. Civil society actors can be ignored and silent in the process of creation, they can be a force pressuring for it, they can consult the government on how to best meet the needs of the citizens and/ or supply documentation that human rights organizations have collected before an official truth commission opens its doors. They can also be explicitly invited to present suggestions for the design, staffing, procedures, etc. of the truth commission. The extent to which civil society actors are involved in the creation of a truth commission is likely to influence the acceptance of the commission's findings among the broader public.

There are several choices with respect to civil society involvement:

  • no involvement

  • consultation of NGOs and/or other actors of civil society = low to medium involvement

  • 'public creation process' = high involvement



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