Whose Truth? What Kind of Reconciliation? The Importance of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for Promoting Democratic Good Governance


Faculty Club Ballroom, 3450 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0E5, CA

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

15:30-16:00:  Welcome

Philip Oxhorn, Founding Director, Institute for the Study of International Development

16:00-18:00:  Presentation by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

                Murray Sinclair

Marie Wilson

                Chief Wilton Littlechild

Discussant: Andrew Lee

18:00-19:30 Reception


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

10:45-11:15 Break

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

15:45-16:00 Break

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