Sunday, November 29, 2009

truth commission without democracy?

Last week in class we spent a lot of time talking about one of the questions from a precis. Essentially, the question was whether a truth commission would only work in a democracy, or at least in a state that was in a transition towards democracy. It seemed to be a class consensus that yes, this might be true. However, having thought more about it, I'm not sure that I agree.

While it is perhaps true that the truth commissions that we've read about (most notably the TRC, Argentina, and Chile) are only thinkable in democracies, I am not ready to say that no truth commission would be possible in a non-democracy. It seems that in the TRC, where the people of South Africa played a very big part in its creation, and in Chile and Argentina, where the truth commissions were accepted and reparations were given to victims by the new regimes, very democratic ideals are in play. But what if truth commissions looked different? What if they looked more like the El Salvador commission, which was made up of all foreigners? The people of El Salvador wanted the commission, but admitted that there were not people in El Salvador that would be able to uphold a commission without outside help. What about a country like Saudi Arabia? A place where human rights violations have definitely taken place, but yet it is not in the process of a democratic transition. There are certainly truths to be told in places that perhaps are unwilling or unready to tell them. So does that mean that truth commissions are not possible there? Or rather, are truth commissions necessary, but just might need to be spearheaded by the international community, with the help of the willing locals?

On the other hand, would truth commissions lose some of their legitimacy if they were not always started from within? If it becomes possible for the international community to put truth commissions in place as they seem fit, it seems like it could run the risk of becoming just a system of passing judgment and one state pointing out what is wrong about another, and altogether ignoring state sovereignty.

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