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What truth? A critical look at the plurality of civil society discourses around the construction of truth in Colombia, Ivory Coast and Nepal

Civil Society
Human Rights
Critical Theory
Transitional justice
Carles Fernández Torné
Universitat de Barcelona
Albert Caramés Boada
Blanquerna-Ramon Llull
Carles Fernández Torné
Universitat de Barcelona
Oscar Mateos
Blanquerna School on Communication and International relations. Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain.
Ana Isabel Rodríguez Iglesias
Centro de Estudos Sociais, University of Coimbra

Abstract

Are truth commissions an instrument of empowerment for victims of human rights violations? Or, are they mechanisms that states establish in times of weakness and debatable legitimacy in order to justify a new social contract with the citizenry? The experience of more than forty truth commissions over the past four decades leads us to conclude that there has been a significant effort to include victims and civil society organizations in conflict resolution. However, the inclusion of these traditionally excluded actors does not mean that they have been empowered. This article will study how victim groups and civil society organizations have interacted with truth commissions in three postconflict contexts, Colombia, Ivory Coast and Nepal. The article will examine these interactions in two different moments. First, in the period leading to the establishment of a truth commission, the analysis will consider whether these mechanisms were conceived bottom-up, acknowledging victims and civil society voices, and whether these voices converged in aims and strategy or rather conflicted with each other. Second, as a result of establishing the truth commission, we will examine what is the narrative emerging from the commission, the ‘quality of voice’, whether it is related to the experiences of conflict, trauma and victimhood or more aligned to the imperatives of nation building. And third, whether disappointment with any of these instances leads victims to seek alternative grass-roots informal truth-telling processes that seek to substitute and depart from the narratives emanating from official mechanisms. The article will examine whether in departing from official narratives we are witnessing how transitional justice is metamorphosing into transformative justice processes that allow for a real redistribution of power as subordinate subjects become active agents.