Sunday, November 29, 2009


I read an article comparing the Guatemalan truth commission (CEH) and the South African TRC, and a very distinct difference between the two is that the CEH did not name names while the South African TRC did. The writers of the article argued that not "naming names" was more profitable in the long run. In the case of the TRC, the emphasis on particular individuals and their perpetrators failed to give a "macro-truth" and instead only gave many "micro-truths." By not naming names, the CEH was able to gain access to information they would have never been able to have otherwise, and were able to form a more complete macro-truth. The CEH gave a more complete answer to the question of how the state became perpetrators of genocide and countless human rights violations.

An interesting point that another author makes is that most people in Guatemala knew who the perpetrators were, but were powerless to convict or confront them. The main sentiment in Guatemala was the recovery of loved ones who were “disappeared” or killed. Because of this, naming names was not as important as retrieving information. This was obviously not a sentiment shared with all Guatemalans, for the initial response to the fact that the CEH would not name names was fiercely negative. The anonymity of the report led people to believe that this truth commission would be little more than a watered-down, apologetic paper that would never have any effect on the country’s future. Many were glad to hear that once the report was published, it blamed the state for 93% of the human rights violations.

Another place a policy of anonymity can be effective is in a state that has a weak judicial system. It is not fair to hand over the burden of prosecuting each individual to the next government, and could possibly destabilize their already weak power. In the case of Guatemala, the judicial system in place before the peace agreements that ended the civil war was but a shadow of what it used to be. Even as late as 2001, Guatemala is still considered a “weak country” according to the UN.

I am not arguing that a policy of anonymity is always correct, but rather I am trying to demonstrate that the decision to release names should be considered on a case-to-case basis. I will argue that in a state of transitional justice, a policy of anonymity seems to be more effective because of the frailty of the new government and judicial system.


  1. I suppose that while not naming perpetrators does allow for more information to be gleaned in certain cases, I believe that shame is an important facet of a truth commission. If perpetrators receive amnesty and are kept confidential, there really is not any form of punishment for there actions. In the South African TRC, there were victims and families who were upset over the lack of punishment aside from public shame. I can only imagine the uproar that would be created if the individuals were never named and given amnesty.
    If the sole goal is truth in these commissions, though, perhaps the best approach would be to offer a lighter punishment for individuals within the judicial system if they give up the truth, so that it is more of a middle ground to amnesty and confidentiality.
    While the truth is vital to the success of the commission, so is some form of justice which may not be reached unless punishment is delivered in some form.

  2. I also failed to mention that the CEH was commissioned to have no judicial power, so their claim was not necessarily for justice, but for truth. The name for the CEH is the Commission for Historical Clarification. Notice how justice is not even in the title.


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