Truth Commissions are often viewed as a last resort for political regimes. When justice via the legal system is impossible, we settle for truth. In the essay Hope for Healing, Minow argues for an alternative view. Perhaps truth commissions are favorable to trials. When I first read the article I was skeptical, but I’m having second thoughts about trials.
Prosecutions are undeniably flawed. Legal battles and massive prosecutions can be messy, and ineffective. They may only perpetuate the “eye for an eye” mentality and they fail to answer the questions that many families have concerning their loved ones.
Minow maintains, “the aspiration to develop as full an account as possible requires a process of widening the lens, sifting varieties of evidentiary materials, and drafting syntheses of factual material that usually does not accompany a trial.” (239) Thus, an alternative is required to replace the unsatisfactory trial process.
Minow argues that individuals can publicize their experiences and pain. This process would allow the victim and the community to overcome the pain together. “Acknowledgement” of the crimes will ease the pain of those suffering and simultaneously develop the fullest account of the events.
I think Minow is onto something. The venting process would be similar to speaking to a psychiatrist. By simply talking to someone, victims can relieve some of the stress and pain. It provides relief (for the victim) and recognition (for the community). Public recognition, after all, is a crucial aspect of the truth commission.
The full recognition of political atrocities (by the victims and the community) will, ideally, restore the “dignity” of the harmed parties. Minow emphasizes and reemphasizes the need for victims to tell their stories so the community can gather information and begin to heal.
The process of healing that Minow advocates recognizes that prosecutions are all but impossible. Rather than suffering in silence behind closed doors, victims would be able to shift the focus to communal healing. Thus, themes of healing and progress take the place of anger and uncertainty.
Truth commissions, unlike prosecutions, “emphasize the experiences of those victimizes”, create a historical record of the events, and proactively begins the healing process. While the “restorative power of truth telling” is only a small step in overcoming atrocious crimes against humanity, it is an effective, proactive process that emphasizes healing rather than exacerbating rage. Restoring dignity and answering lingering questions is necessary. Considering this, perhaps truth commissions are more effective in healing and understanding these crimes.