Whose Truth? What Kind of Reconciliation? The Importance of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for Promoting Democratic Good Governance
A free international conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of International Development. All welcome.
Purpose: Explore the factors that condition the success of truth and reconciliation commissions in contributing to creating social cohesion as a foundation for democratic good governance by examining diverse national experiences.
Background: Beginning with Argentina’s 1983 truth and reconciliation commission investigating human rights abuses under its last military regime, a number of countries have created truth and reconciliation commissions in order to address past social traumas resulting from civil war and dictatorship, as well as religious, ethnic and racial strife. As their name implies, truth and reconciliation commissions attempt to set the historical record straight by preserving historical memory with the explicit goal of ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated—“never again” (“nunca mas”), to quote the title of Argentina’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Such goals are intrinsically related to democratic good governance. This is also why they invariably are undertaken by democratic governments, often as a fundamental component of transitions to democracy. Indeed, a primary objective of reconciliation is to overcome past divisions in favor of consensus and mutual understanding. This also often means that truth and reconciliation commissions often take place in contexts of fragile political stability. Yet even when they do not, such as in Canada and Australia, the intensity of the historical injustices under review can threaten to open old wounds, polarizing politics if the scope of the commission is perceived as too broad by important segments of the general population. For this reason, truth and reconciliation is usually is disconnected from issues of justice; sanctioning culpability is done independently of the TRC process, if at all.
As the number of TRCs has grown (by one estimate, there have been almost 30 since the early 1980s) and the issues they address have expanded, it is now appropriate to attempt to systematically explore their experiences in a comparative manner. As new demands for historical redress gain force among historically marginalized groups and new conflicts emerge around global climate change, food security, and the growth of the extractive sector to name the most obvious sources of future conflict, not to mention the hope that ongoing conflicts will end, it is likely that TRCs will continue to play an important role in many parts of the globe. At the same time, the experiences of TRCs can offer important new insights for achieving democratic good governance based on mutual understandings in an increasingly complicated world.
Thursday, March 13: Setting the Stage: Canada’s Experience
Philip Oxhorn, Founding Director, Institute for the Study of International Development
16:00-18:00: Presentation by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Chief Wilton Littlechild
Discussant: Andrew Lee
Friday, March 14: Comparing Experiences from Across the Globe
9:00-10:45 Truth, Reconciliation and Justice: The Philosophical Debates
Colleen Murphy, University of Illinois at Urbana –Champaign
David Dyzenhaus, University of Toronto
Glenda Mezarobba, Brazilian TRC
Moderator and Discussant: Catherine Lu, McGill University
11:15-13:00 The Trend Setters
Emilio Crenzel: Argentina
Dr Marjorie Jobson, National Director, Khulumani Support Group: South Africa
Beverley Carrick, Executive Director, CAUSE Canada: Sierra Leone
Discussant and Moderator: Elizabeth Jelin
13:00-1400 Lunch Break
14:00-15:45 The Importance of Civil Society
Ms Leah Armstrong, CEO, Reconciliation Australia: Australia
Dr Katy Radford, Institute for Conflict Research: Northern Ireland
Miguel Ángel Sandoval: Guatemala
Discussant and Moderator: John Tyynela
16:00-17:45 Experiences without TRCs
Prof. Anastase Shyaka, CEO of Rwanda Governance Board: Rwanda
Njonjo Mue: Kenya
Aldo Marchesi: Uruguay
Discussant and Moderator: Oskar N.T. Thoms