Abuses demand justice. Victims need their suffering to be acknowledged. They want to know these violations will never happen again. It can be powerful for them to tell their stories and be listened to with respect and compassion.
On a micro level, we know how important this is for individuals as we help move people through the process of healing.
In a time of such communal pain, when many of us feel overwhelmed and uncertain of how to help, can we apply these ideas of healing to a national level?
In fact, dozens of countries have done just this by establishing Truth Commissions, which investigate & report on human rights abuses, help seek recognition for victims, and offer suggestions for reparations and reconciliation.
How Do Truth Commissions Work? What Do They Do?
A panel of diverse, representative members of the community are selected to serve as commissioners. They collect data, conduct thousands of interviews, and offer opportunities for victims to share their stories publicly.
1. Establish a National Narrative of The Truth
- Restore personal dignity to victims
- Establish the circumstances & facts of the violations
- Identify the perpetrators (specifically and by name)
- Establish the causes that led to the abuses
- Establish a shared understanding for the community & the nation
- Safeguard against public denial & the harmful impact of silence
2. Public Testimony & Documentation
- Offer opportunity for victims to share their story with the public, to be listened to with respect, to be witnessed
- Some offer the perpetrators a chance to admit & confess their crimes, thereby confirming & validating the victims’ stories
- Opportunity for perpetrators and other witnesses to face victims and give sincere apologies
- Some commissions have been broadcast on national, or global, television creating a kind of “shock therapy” as viewers grapple with graphic first-person accounts of torture and abuse
- Documentation centers are created which house archives of audio/video recordings & other notes which all citizens can access
3. Commemorations & Memorials
- Construction of memorials or designation of special days to honor & remember the victims
- Opportunities for families to mourn
- Exhumations may occur so that missing bodies can be located
4. Comprehensive Reports & Policy Recommendations
- Issue final reports of their findings to policy makers, judicial institutions, researchers
- Empower victims - What do you need from us in order to find justice? What changes would you like to see?
- Give specific recommendations on how to reform institutions responsible for abuse and how to prevent recurrence of these violations
- Offer suggestions of how to provide support for marginalized / affected communities
I Like This, What Can the U.S. Do? What Can I Do?
- Learn from the Truth & Justice Commission of Mauritius (2009) which explored the impact of slavery in that country. This commission was unique in that it dealt with socioeconomic class abuses and explored the possibility of reparations.
- Create our own Truth Commission focused on slavery, police brutality & other widespread abuses of power & systemic oppression!
- Support Act HR 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” which has been introduced to Congress every year for the past 25 years by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (Detroit). The bill calls for a congressional study of slavery & its lingering effects as well as recommendations for "appropriate remedies.”
- Listen, read, watch people’s first-hand accounts of their experience. Documentaries, novels, blogs, articles, poetry, music, art, films, podcasts. LISTEN to what Black people in this country are saying about their lives. The immediacy of first person accounts is hard to ignore. They have been SCREAMING for years about what’s been happening. Imagine if they were in front of you telling you this — What would you say to them? Really, what would you say??
- There are so many incredible conversations happening right now about how to take action and make reforms. Changes in our judicial, legal, police, educational, media systems. Maybe choose one area that speaks to you and listen to ideas about how to improve these structures so that we can prevent these violations from continuing to occur.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for caring! I’m not an expert on race, history or politics but I really like the ideas of these commissions ️️ ❤️
Image: "Monument to Memory and Truth" mural by Julio Reyes in El Salvador (2005)