Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

Kal Raustiala: They worked well. There’s a good- I think a good example in South Africa. There are many other truth commissions out there-- South Africa is the most famous, in which they seem to have worked pretty well. South Africa is an amazing story of a country that completely transformed itself in a nonviolent way into again not a perfect society.
There’s a lot of bitterness, very understandable, but the truth and reconciliation process seems to have been fairly widely accepted. It has a certain advantage over trials, which is one other alternative, to have a kind of trial. And war crimes trials or other trials of that type are very costly. You can only kind of try a few people and so the appeal of truth and reconciliation is that it’s less legalistic, you can reach out to more--  There are many differences but it allows you to achieve reconciliation rather than simply a judgment. So that’s what I think it has. It has some real advantages but it’s not- it certainly has not been used everywhere, right, and so Saddam Hussein was tried by a national court. The International Criminal Court obviously takes a criminal justice model rather than the TRC had an amnesty process so if you confessed and you confessed fully and were perceived to have confessed fully you could be granted amnesty. That was controversial but that was an essential part of the vision. The International Criminal Court doesn’t do that. It’s a very different model. So I think it really--  It’s hard to say that there is a recipe. It depends on many different factors and I think we’re really in a learning process right now over the last 25 years. We’ve been experimenting with all of these different models, national courts, international courts, some kind of hybrid international, national, truth commissions, straight-up amnesties. Right. Some people say we should just grant an amnesty and like the- many of the Sub-Saharan African dictators they retire to the South of France, just let them go.

The relatively young field of transitional justice applies different strategies.

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