Research Handbook on Transitional Justice
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Research Handbook on Transitional Justice

Edited by Cheryl Lawther, Luke Moffett and Dov Jacobs

Providing detailed and comprehensive coverage of the transitional justice field, this Research Handbook brings together leading scholars and practitioners to explore how societies deal with mass atrocities after periods of dictatorship or conflict. Situating the development of transitional justice in its historical context, social and political context, it analyses the legal instruments that have emerged.
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Chapter 17: Transitional justice and truth commissions

Cheryl Lawther

Abstract

In recent years truth commissions have become the ‘go to’ response in the aftermath of violent conflict and human rights abuses. They are often presented as a way to manage two problems that commonly occur in peace processes – finding the balance between the need to know what happened in the past and moving forward, and encouraging greater recognition of the complexity of ‘truth’ post conflict. This chapter questions the extent to which truth commissions have tended to shape and reify the identities of victims and perpetrators and whether these binary oppositions obscure the reality of structural culpability. It does so by critically interrogating the relationship between truth commissions and victims, truth commissions and perpetrators and truth commissions and structural actors in turn. The chapter concludes by arguing that greater recognition of the complexity of identity and involvement in conflict is required to provide a more honest reflection of the past and a more sustainable link between truth-telling and peacebuilding. Truth commissions; victims; perpetrators; institutions

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