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Note: Justice in Transition: The Effectiveness of Truth Commissions in Africa and Recommendations for the Kenyan Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission

16 March 2010

Jonathan Moler

19 Minn. J. Int’l L. Online 21 (2010)

  • Evidence supports the assertion that TRCs have a positive affect on governance in Africa
  • TJRC should work together with the ICC to legitimize justice in Kenya
  • Following examples set in Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, TJRC may be capable of intervening in acts beyond those potentially addressed by ICC

In the past three decades, truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) have gained credibility as a form of transitional justice and as an alternative to criminal prosecutions of gross human rights violations. TRCs were first used widely in South and Central America. They gained traction as viable transitional justice mechanisms in Africa after the South African TRC submitted its report in 1998. The increased usage in Africa in the past decade raises the question: are TRCs effective in helping to transform transitional states into stable states which respect human rights and the rule of law? Research on existing data on the rule of law, governance, and human rights practices leads this Note to answer “yes.”

In Kenya, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) is gearing up. Normally a stable country, Kenya has endured several instances of serious ethnic violence in the past two decades. This Note analyzes how successful African truth commissions have functioned and applies those lessons to Kenya.

Part I of this Note discusses the history of ethnic violence in Kenya, culminating in the election violence of 2007 and 2008. Part II discusses the history of TRCs in sub-Saharan Africa, what they were mandated to do, how they functioned, what they said in their reports, and how those reports were implemented by states. Part III introduces the measurements that this Note uses to illustrate the effect of truth commissions, including their impact on governance, the rule of law, and human rights practices. Part IV discusses the results of this survey of governance indicators and how they demonstrate the positive impact of TRCs in sub-Saharan Africa. Part V applies the lessons of past TRCs to Kenya’s TJRC and discusses how it should proceed. This Note suggests that the TJRC should work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to save valuable resources and focus its energies on reconciling the various ethnic groups of Kenya by addressing the serious issues revolving around land dispossession and reallocation… [Continue reading PDF]


Cite as: 19 Minn. J. Int’l L. Online 21 (2010)

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  • Guest said:

    Congratulations on the first published student note Mr. Moler!