Truth and Reconciliation Commissions - A Healing Process

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have become an important part of acknowledging human rights violations.​

“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.” ― Desmond Tutu

When visiting South Africa several years ago, I learned about Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC). The TRC created in South Africa became a healing opportunity following the end of apartheid. Now, a few years later, I was reminded of TRC’s when reading a brief article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This commission was formed as a result of an out-of-court settlement from a class action lawsuit by aboriginal and indigenous peoples, who as children were required to attend residential schools.

Wikipedia identifies Argentina as the country with the very first truth and reconciliation commission (1983) called the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. The Argentine commission documented human rights violations that occurred under military dictatorship. The Nunca Más (Never Again) report, written by the commission, recorded human rights violations from the National Reorganization Process. The report, released in 1984, led to the Trial of the Juntas, which was the first major war crimes trial held since the World War II Nuremberg trials.

Since then, many entities have established some form of truth and reconciliation commissions to address past regressions and wrong-doings by a government or other group. In 2008, the State of Maine initiated a process to document child welfare practices that once resulted in Native American children being forcibly removed from their homes and placed with white foster parents. Chiefs from all five of Maine’s tribes, along with Gov. Paul LePage, created the Maine Wabanaki TRC to begin healing physical and mental wounds that resulted from previous governmental decisions.

Truth and reconciliation commissions are not a panacea, but they are an organized opportunity for those who have experienced suffering to disclose their experiences without shame. It is also a way for a country (or other entity) to identify and acknowledge human rights violations that have occurred. With truth and reconciliation commissions there is usually no retribution for those who committed the crimes or atrocities.

The Michigan State University Extension website has hosted several articles referencing truth and reconciliation commissions, as well as the relationship of TRC’s to Ubuntu – a South African word loosely described by the concept of “I am because of who we all are.”