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Context Link: https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-11/transitional-justice-south-africaWhat are some key differences between trials and truth commissions? How might you figure out when it would be best to have a trial and when a truth commission would be best? ...[Show More]

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Differences Between Trials and Truth Commissions

Truth commissions and trials are both transitional justice mechanisms meant to resolve historical violations of human rights and encourage responsibility, but they operate differently and have different aims (Zvobgo, 2020). Trials are legal hearings where a suspected individual is put on trial and assessed for their conduct. They frequently feature an official legal procedure involving a judge, juror, prosecution, and defence. Trials are intended to hold people responsible for their offenses and to inflict penalties if they are proven culpable.

Contrarily, truth committees are non-judicial groups that investigate past cases of human rights abuses and present a transparent account of what happened. Most of the time, a group of individuals selected by the government, or a foreign organization is charged with questioning victims and perpetrators, collecting their statements, and writing a report detailing their findings and recommendations. By exposing the truth about earlier offenses and providing victims a platform to share their experiences, truth commissions hope to promote healing, repentance, and societal change.

The gravity and character of the human rights violations, the political and societal environment, the available resources, and the objectives of the transitional justice process should all be considered when choosing between a prosecution and a truth commission (Seul, 2019). When there is substantial proof to back the accusations and the offenses are serious and entail individual accountability, a hearing may be suitable. Trials can also give victims a feeling of justice and help prevent further offenses. Trials, however, can be expensive and time-consuming, and there is no guarantee that the accused will be found guilty or punished. Trials may also increase racial strife and be perceived as enforcing an outside judicial system.

When there is a need to create a historical record of prior violations and when the objective is to foster social change, peace, and mending, a truth commission might be more suitable. Truth committees can give people a platform to share their experiences and can aid in creating a general knowledge of the past. Trials may be more expensive and time-consuming than truth boards. Truth committees may not, however, hold offenders personally accountable or penalize them, and the government may not always follow their suggestions.

References

Seul, J. R. (2019). Coordinating transitional justice. Negotiation Journal35(1), 9-30.

Zvobgo, K. (2020). Demanding truth: The global transitional justice network and the creation of truth commissions. International Studies Quarterly, 64(3), 609-625.Demanding truth: The global transitional justice network and the creation of truth commissions. International Studies Quarterly64(3), 609-625.

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