Over the past several decades, dozens of countries have established truth commissions and other bodies to investigate mass atrocities or systematic human rights abuse. Lessons learned from past truth-finding processes are invaluable to help address the legacies of human rights violations in countries transitioning to democratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa and elsewhere.

Peace Brief: The Diversity of Truth Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry

Summary

  • Over the past several decades, dozens of countries have established truth commissions and other bodies to investigate mass atrocities or systematic human rights abuse. Lessons learned from past truth-finding processes are invaluable to help address the legacies of human rights violations in countries transitioning to democratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa and elsewhere.
  • Truth commissions aim to uncover and acknowledge abuses from the past by recognizing the suffering of victims and making recommendations to prevent a recurrence of violence in the future.
  • When convening authorities establish a truth commission, they need to select a process to choose the commission’s membership, decide on the subject matter and a deadline for the work it will do as well as its legal powers, its duration and the extent to which its work is public.
  • USIP has established a Truth Commissions Digital Collection that provides summaries and vital statistics of 41 past commissions from 35 countries, along with copies of most of their legal charters and final reports. Each commission has a dedicated page along with information on subsequent developments, such as reforms, prosecutions and reparations to victims.
  • The Truth Commissions Digital Collection is a resource for researchers and implementers seeking to learn and apply lessons from the past to make current “truth processes” more effective.

About This Brief

This brief was written by USIP researcher Evelyne Schmid, who compiled the Truth Commission Digital Collection since 2008. She is a lecturer at the University of Bangor, Wales, UK and a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She previously received a MA in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Related Publications

COVID Raises the Stakes for Zimbabwe’s Civil Society Movement

COVID Raises the Stakes for Zimbabwe’s Civil Society Movement

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

By: Miranda Rivers; Precious Ndlovu

Countries worldwide that suffer or risk violent conflicts face a new hazard amid the COVID-19 pandemic: governments’ use of the disease as a pretext to curtail democratic freedoms and punish opposition. As COVID has spread across Africa, Zimbabwe is emerging as one of the countries most vulnerable to the disease—and most illustrative of its threat to peace and democratization efforts on the continent. Two and a half years after a military coup installed President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his government has used the health crisis to arrest members of the opposition and journalists, and divert humanitarian aid to ruling party supporters.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Health; Nonviolent Action

The Challenges for Social Movements in Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

The Challenges for Social Movements in Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

By: Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo; Charles Mangongera

Civil society and social movements have long been at the center of pushing back against corruption and authoritarian practices. Zimbabwe was no exception in the run-up to the November 2017 coup d’état that ousted Robert Mugabe after four decades of unaccountable rule. This report, based on in-country interviews and focus group discussions, examines the transition that followed the coup to draw broader lessons for how the international community can support, without harming, grassroots nonviolent action initiatives in countries undergoing profound political shifts.

Type: Special Report

Nonviolent Action

Military Crackdown Mars Zimbabwe’s First Post-Mugabe Election

Military Crackdown Mars Zimbabwe’s First Post-Mugabe Election

Monday, August 6, 2018

Over 80 percent of eligible voters participated in Zimbabwe’s July 30 polls—a tense, reasonably competitive, and possibly historic election. After 37 years of authoritarian rule under former President Robert Mugabe, there was hope for a break with the past, with a halt to the political oppression of opposition members and civil society. But fears loomed large of a return to tyranny when protesting opposition members faced a violent response by the Zimbabwean army shortly after Election Day. 

Type: Blog

Electoral Violence

View All Publications