In many places around the world, communities have experienced conflicts, sometime lasting decades and destroying lives and infrastructures. But, fortunately in some of them, stakeholders found solutions in a range of peace processes to achieve sustainable reconciliation and agree on necessary foundations for moving forward effectively. Setting up a truth and reconciliation commission has been one of such approaches of reparatory justice. However, in every situation, commissions put in place were established according to local and particular contexts related to issues faced by the protagonists.
For example, when wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone ended, respectively in 2003 and 2002, governments in these countries found appropriate to have commissions for truth and reconciliation. Generally, the commission aimed at addressing responsibilities in atrocities committed during war. The Liberian truth and reconciliation commission was a Parliament – enacted organisation created in May 2005 under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Its mandate was to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” by investigating more than 20 years of civil conflict in the country and to report on gross human rights violations that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.
In 1989, after the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, the new political leadership created a truth and reconciliation commission. From 1973 to 1976, the early years of Pinochet’s rule, some 3,000 Chileans had disappeared without a trace. Though, after the first recorded disappearances, oppression and torture had continued until Pinochet’s electoral defeat in 1989, internal and international pressure had made his dictatorship to restrain in its abuse of human rights towards its citizens. The work of the commission highlighted the need for trials of the perpetrators by an independent judicial body, revisions to the criminal procedural code (both civil and military), as well as reparations for the families of victims and an adherence to international standards of human rights.
The situation of Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics didn’t involve the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission as such. But, the peace process between the two communities, with the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 as one of its historical milestones, borrowed from the same principles of truth, healing, responsibility and moving forward. The roles played by both the British and Irish governments were crucial in political and social outcomes of the Agreement.
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first of those held internationally to stage public hearings has been, despite some flaws, considered as relatively successful. It was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in the country. It was a court-like restorative justice body assembled after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
There are different paths to preventing future conflicts, but only few that make harmonious transition towards sustainability, particularly when war and instability have been recently experienced or still ongoing. Setting up a genuine truth and reconciliation commission could be the least expensive but most effective. In the situation related to Rwanda, on the one hand, by the end of 2010, it was sixteen years that the one-sided International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had been established. The budget spent on its operations during that period was expected to be almost 1.5 billion $ by that time. On the other, the budget for the UN contingent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, the biggest peacekeeping mission ever set up – 22,000 men and women for its military and civil personnel, was $1.4 billion. This was only for the one year period running from July 2010 to June 2011. The force was put in place as a consequence of continuous political and social unrest created in the country by the two wars of invasion of 1996 and 1998, which were initiated by DRC’s neighbors (Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi).
Furthermore, aid to Rwanda has soared in billions of $ since the end of the genocide in July 1994. Unfortunately, a significant fraction has helped President Paul Kagame develop and strengthen an oppressive and militarist regime detrimental to democracy inside the country and regional stability. Unconditional support from the donor community and particularly U.S and U,K, has made flourish impunity for those in the Rwandan regime who committed serious crimes against their citizens and continue denying them their fundamental rights (freedom of speech or association).
With the current political development in Rwanda, particularly aggravated by serious dissentions inside the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, and the influence of the general hunger for freedom for oppressed populations in the Middle East and Northern Africa, probabilities of social explosion are significantly high. It shouldn’t surprise if a repeat of political and social unrest of the past become soon a reality. All the ingredients, i.e. increasing injustice and insecurity for citizens inside and outside the country, imprisonment of politicians, disappearances, etc, have been building up over the years and now seem coming together at an incredible speed.
The international community, and particularly U.S and U.K., which continue playing a significant role in the Rwandan affairs through their financial support to Kagame’s regime, could save Rwandans another catastrophe, by strongly sponsoring the setting up of a genuine truth and reconciliation commission for Rwanda to end impunity, heal and reconcile its Hutu and Tutsi communities. This could be more sustainable and least costly than any other attempt tried so far of moving forward.
In an article titled The UN Security Council Ad Hoc Rwanda Tribunal: International Justice or Judicially-Constructed ‘Victor’s Impunity’, which was published in De Paul Journal for Social Justice, Professor Peter Erlinder suggests:
“… imagine the consequences for South Africa had the U.N. Security Council established an International Criminal Tribunal for South Africa, in which the United States exercised behind-the-scenes influence as it has at the ICTR, to ensure that only members of the apartheid regime were held responsible for crimes committed during the struggle for majority rule. … the picture would have been much worse had a minority government composed of a former aristocracy been imposed by force upon a majority,…Once there is truth…reconciliation at least has a chance.”