This may seem like a stupid question to ask, but in this context, the concept refers to the idea of a truth-telling commission — a reflection or investigation of incidents that caused great upheaval through the memories of those who were impacted by the events and those who caused the damage.
Truth-telling commissions work in a similar way to royal commissions: victims, their families and alleged perpetrators, testify about what they witnessed. Instead of being cross-examined by a lawyer, a committee or individual representing the commission listens to the testimony and asks questions. The evidence is then reviewed and correlated.
In the past, some commissions have gone further and judged whether the testimony was A) truthful, and B) the entirety of what the witnesses know.
After assessing the testimonies and other evidence as a whole, the committee tables their conclusions. The commission’s findings are then compiled in a report, and presented to the public. Over the years, there have been variations of this formula in different countries and organisations around the world.
They have been held mostly by governments after a period of turmoil or events that could be considered serious breaches to human rights, especially in cases where going to the International Criminal Court may not be an option. There have been instances where the United Nations and other institutions have held their own independent truth-telling commissions, which were not supported by the organisations, individuals or States being investigated.
Truth-telling commissions originated in Africa, but have been adopted across North, Central and South America. The first truth commission took place in Uganda in the 1970s; then they became more prominent and frequent in the 1990s and the 21st Century.
The Truth Commission: Commission of Inquiry into the Disappearances of People in Uganda, was created following strong pressure from the public to investigate the actions of then President Idi Amin Dada. The commission lasted three years. Its final report was presented to Amin, but sadly, it never saw the light of day, as Amin reportedly destroyed the only copy of the report.
Since then, there have been many truth-telling commissions held across the globe. One of the most well-known examples was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, held in South Africa after the end of the Apartheid. Its final report resulted in both convictions and acquittals for crimes committed during that period. Despite the criticisms it drew from then president Nelson Mandela and others from all sides, the commission’s final report was seen as a positive step towards the reconciliation of a de-segregated South Africa.
It is hoped that with the ratification of the Uluru Statement of the Heart, Australia will be included in the list of nations to undergo a similar process of deep self-reflection.