Situating Truth Commissions’ Historical Narratives in Context: Chile and Peru

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Truth commission
Truth, justice, and reconciliation commission
Commission creation process
Commission composition
Participatory commission creation
Exclusionary commission creation

Why do some truth commissions produce comprehensive historical narratives,while others limit themselves to writing short context chapters? Why do some narratives try to include as many perspectives as possible, while others seem content with a relatively narrow analysis? Why do some commissions avoid making judgment on politically sensitive issues, while others eagerly join historiographical controversies? What do the exclusions reveal about a particular truth commission’s understanding of truth, justice and reconciliation?

These questions are explored through an analysis of the historical narratives of the Chilean and Peruvian truth commissions. The author compares and contrasts the historical narratives with respect to depth, breadth, narrative strategies, and exclusions and argues that the commission creation process simultaneously enables and constrains the commission through the mandate and the appointment of commissioners, which in turn shapes the forensic investigation and the historical explanation. The composition of the commissionis of special significance in making sense of the historical explanation, since thecommissioners’ professional background, ideology, values and experiences have direct influence on the content and exclusions of the narrative.


This paper is part of the LAS Working Papers Series and will be presented on March 1, 2012, at SFU Vancouver.

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