Moving away from the South African model: Amnesties and prosecutions in the practice of 40 truth commissions

‘The value of truth commissions is that they are created, not with the presumption that there will be no trials, but to constitute a step towards knowing the truth and, ultimately, making justice prevail.’
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Fifteen years after the adoption of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, a disproportionate reference to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) dominates both legal/policy discussions about truth-seeking mechanisms and the public perception of truth commissions. This paper aims at verifying whether such hegemony is justified. It argues that the South African TRC cannot be used either as a practical model for future truth commissions or as a representative case study to understand the role of truth commissions in situations of transition.

This paper was presented at the University of Oxford as an Oxford Transitional Justice Research Seminar on 25 January 2010. It was written in the personal capacity of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Amnesty International.

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