Use of experience of the “truth commissions”
- Parliamentary Assembly
adopted by the Standing Committee, acting on behalf of
the Assembly, on 29 May 2008 (see Doc. 11459, report of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur:
1 Dealing with the past, establishing
the truth and promoting reconciliation in war-torn, post-conflict
and transitional societies are key preconditions for the achievement
of lasting peace and a stable future in which democracy can be built
and the rule of law and respect for human rights ensured. To succeed
with this task, a growing number of countries emerging from a difficult
past have made use of a mechanism known as “truth commissions”.
2 Increasingly accepted around the world, truth commissions
have not been widely used in Europe. Yet there are European countries
and regions where past – and in some cases on-going – violence has
left the society with deep wounds that need to be dealt with, so
that the future is no longer hostage to the past. The experience
of truth commissions in other parts of the world could prove to
be of significant political importance and a source of inspiration
for those countries.
3 Truth commissions are officially established, temporary, non-judicial
bodies set up to research and report on tragic violent events in
a country’s past, in particular to investigate human rights abuses
committed during a particular violent period or by a former regime.
4 Truth commissions focus on a pattern of violations, look into
their roots and causes and draw lessons from past abuses, thus helping
to create conditions to avoid future abuse. The work and conclusions
of truth commissions should make it possible to establish institutional
responsibility and facilitate the necessary institutional reforms.
5 By addressing the victims’ need to be heard and to have their
suffering recognised, truth commissions can help reconstitute a
sense of civic belonging for those whose rights were denied, and
overcome their social exclusion. In many cases, truth commissions
can be a unique opportunity for the survivors to learn the fate
of loved ones who have disappeared, thus responding to their right
to know the truth.
6 The Parliamentary Assembly considers that truth commissions
may be an effective mechanism for addressing past human rights violations,
thus bringing reconciliation to a society emerging from a difficult
past. If established in accordance with the basic principles of
international human rights law, they may also play a useful and
complementary role to criminal justice but cannot and should not
be seen as an alternative to it. In particular, truth commissions
should not grant amnesties for crimes which fall under international
law. They should function in a way that respects, protects and promotes
human rights. In order to be impartial and independent, they should
be established through broad consultations throughout the society,
with the participation of civil society organisations and victims.
7 A number of countries and regions of Europe still have to
come to terms with the heritage of a tragic past. They should be
encouraged to turn to the experiences of truth commissions, to learn
from their strengths and weaknesses, and to assess whether these
experiences could be adapted to their specific national contexts
in order to help reconcile divided societies and restore justice,
confidence and hope for a common future.
8 Therefore, the Assembly calls on the governments, the parliaments,
the political parties and the civil society organisations of the
Council of Europe member and observer states, in particular of those
where the wounds of the past are still present in the society, to
study the experience and the best international practices of truth
commissions, and to consider whether establishing such a commission
could help address the past.
9 The Assembly considers that the experience of truth commissions
may be of particular relevance for the Chechen Republic of the Russian
Federation. The society in Chechnya, and in the whole Russian Federation, needs
to deal with the legacy of the conflict in this region, to reconstitute
the history of abuses committed, and of violence and injustices
suffered, by all sides involved. It further needs to provide recognition
and redress to victims and to establish institutional and personal
responsibilities, so as to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable
and to prevent further abuses. A truth commission could be one way
of meeting those needs.
10 The Assembly recognises that a decision on the appropriateness
of establishing a truth commission belongs to the authorities of
the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. It notes at the
same time that there is a growing interest in this matter as well
as a demand for truth and reconciliation at various levels of Chechen
11 To respond to this interest, the Assembly asks its Political
Affairs Committee to provide, in the most suitable way, the authorities
and civil society organisations of the Chechen Republic of the Russian
Federation with information on experiences and best international
practices of truth commissions.
12 Nothing in this resolution should be interpreted as undermining
the right of individuals to apply to the European Court of Human