The truth about truth commissions, by ADEWALE Kupoluyi

Reflecting on the impact of truth commissions with some fellows in international relations, law, diplomacy and conflict studies, based on a book titled; “Human rights, peace and justice in Africa: A reader”.
The well-researched piece was edited by Christof Heyns and Karen Stefiszyn.
Two articles came up for review under the sub-head; “What is transitional justice?” in the “Pieces of the puzzle”, published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, looks at what happens to the issue of human rights and the liberty of the people when a state is experiencing a sort of transition or from one phase to another.
It maintains that for the rule of law to prevail, justice must be encouraged, allowed and seen to take place.
Those who violate the law should be sanctioned within constitutional means, to serve as deterrent to others because the rule of law goes handin-hand with accountability.

There is, however, need for proper documentation to aid and make accountability possible, as a main feature of functional democracy.
But where the conventional mode of administration of justice is not adequately applied, adopted or made available, an alternative approach, through the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), could come in to heal wounds and give people some sense of justice.
The paper believes that state institutions should be real change agents for reconciliation to take place.
Reparations remain another strategy that states can adopt to make restitution and pay for the perceived injustice done their citizens, although, payment of reparations may still not provide satisfactory compensation in the real sense of completely forgetting the past.
Therefore, a combination of political, legal, social and economic approaches seem to be very useful, as a holistic mechanism, to bring about successful reconciliation.
In conclusion, the paper admits that there is the need to always uphold the rule of law at all times, stressed the imperative of prosecuting off enders so as to bring justice to others, rebuilding human societies through the process of genuine reconciliation and rendering of stewardship.
R. Goldstone in the second paper under the sub-head, “Justice, as a tool for peacemaking: Truth Commissions and international criminal tribunals”, a publication of the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, United States of America, establishes the link between peace and justice in the promotion and sustenance of virile international relations, as can be demonstrated in the establishment of the Yugoslav Tribunal, as a precursor to peace building.
The paper reveals that where there have been gross violations of human rights, five positive contributions that can be obtained in that context, to enthrone justice.
To begin with, speaking the truth can help bring about individualised guilt and erase the erroneous impression on the minds of people that tend to unnecessary generalise injustice done against other people on the parochial basis of religions, ethnic and social groups.
Secondly, it creates an opportunity for open and public acceptance of fault and misdeeds, as a strong starting point towards the attainment of genuine healing and forgiveness.
Thirdly, it offers aggrieved parties the rare opportunity to appear in the public by making room for obtaining real evidence and proper documentation, as against secret trials that could bring about speculations and hearsay.
For instance, at the Yugoslav Tribunal, the massacre of many innocent victims was publicly made known, facts that would ordinarily be extremely difficult to establish.
Fourthly, the importance of having good internal policing system and efficient criminal justice system were stressed.
Lastly, it has shown the systematic and gross human rights violations happening in the countries covered.
Not only that, it has helped nations to know what could be done to avert similar violations from taking place in future before they snowball into crisis.
We recall that the Human Rights Violation and Investigation Commission (HRVIC), which was popularly referred to as the Oputa Panel, was designed after the Truth Commission that was put in place in South Africa during the immediate post-apartheid era.

The Oputa Panel, which was headed by the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, sat for three years, three weeks and six days.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the report was shielded of from public scrutiny by the government; a decision predicated on a judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the effect that the law under which the commission (HRVIC) was set up had no basis under the Nigerian 1999 constitution!
The Oputa Panel elicited a lot of public interest but denying the people an opportunity to resolve their differences and forget about the past, could give the impression that government is not truly committed to the truth process.
It is instructive to note that other African nations like South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana had recognised the need to make open such reports, but this did not happen here.
That is one of the reasons why truth may actually not come out as the truth in this part of the world.
That remains the big dilemma when talking about transitional justice.

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