Rule-of-law Tools for Post-conflict States

Truth Commissions

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Countries emerging from conflict often suffer weak or non-existent rule of law, inadequate law enforcement and justice administration capacity, and increased instances of human rights violations. This situation is often exacerbated by a lack of public confidence in State authorities and a shortage of resources. These rule-of-law tools will provide practical guidance to field missions and transitional administrations in critical transitional justice and rule of law-related areas. This publication specifically sets out basic principles and approaches to truth commissions and is intended to assist United Nations and other policymakers in advising on the development of truth-seeking mechanisms.




It is increasingly common for countries emerging from civil war or authoritarian rule to create a truth commission to operate during the immediate post-transition period. These commissions— officially sanctioned, temporary, non-judicial investigative bodies—are granted a relatively short period for statement-taking, investigations, research and public hearings, before completing their work with a final public report. While truth commissions do not replace the need for prosecutions, they do offer some form of accounting for the past, and have thus been of particular interest in situations where prosecutions for massive crimes are impossible or unlikely— owing to either a lack of capacity of the judicial system or a de facto or de jure amnesty. As described below, the work of a truth commission may also strengthen any prosecutions that do take place in the future.


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