Truth Commission Impact: An Assessment of How Commissions Influence Politics and Society (SWP 16)

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Bakiner, Onur, Truth Commission Impact: An Assessment of How Commissions Influence Politics and Society, Simons Papers in Security and Development, No. 16/2011, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, December 2011.


Date created: 
ISSN 1922-5725
Truth commissions
Transitional justice
Retributive justice
Restitutive/restorative justice
Human rights
Civil society

This paper defines truth commission impact as the effect of truth commissions on government policy, judicial processes and social norms. It isolates impact from the causal effects of similar post-conflict institution-building and other transitional justice and conflict resolution measures. It examines ten causal mechanisms through which truth commissions are expected to influence politics and society. Immediate political impact through the implementation of recommendations and delayed political impact through civil society mobilization are the two explanations that draw strong empirical support. Some commissions contribute to human rights accountability (judicial impact), and some promote impunity through amnesty, although the magnitude of impact is small in each case. They also generate normative changes through the delegitimation of perpetrators, the reaction to delegitimation on the part of perpetrators and their allies, and commissions’ overall impact on social norms. Only one commission (in El Salvador) has successfully lobbied for vetting. Despite widely held claims that commissions present a trade-off between reconciliation and justice, there is no evidence that commissions forge reconciliation through consensus, or that they perpetuate impunity.


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