Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

KUNM Airdate:
August 25, 2023
National Airdate:
Week of Sep 24, 2023
Half-hour Program
Hour Program

On this edition of Peace Talks Radio, we’ll take a look at transitional justice through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. We’ve looked at the topic of transitional justice in a 2021 episode, but now look at different examples of Commissions around the globe. From the most famous historical example of the Commission established to investigate abuses under the Apartheid era in South Africa, we’ll look at the evolution of the tool in countries like the Gambia and Colombia following conflict and transitions of power. A new trend is emerging of western democratic states establishing Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to look at historical abuses against indigenous and minority populations. Australia, Canada and Greenland have all concluded such Commissions in recent years. But we’ll take a deep dive into the Commission process in Norway, which is completing in 2023. From the mid-1800s to late in the 20th century, Norway forced assimilation of the indigenous Sámi population through an official “Norwegianization” policy. Traditionally reindeer herders across the Nordic region, the Sámi were forced to give up their own culture and language, particularly through a system of residential schools for Sámi children. Now, Norway is confronting the harms under that policy and its lasting legacy. Danielle Preiss talks with three experts who study transitional justice processes and their evolution including Dr. Elin Skaar, research professor at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Norway, Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman, Program Director of the Global Transitional Justice Initiative at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and Dr. Gloria Ayee, a political scientist and lecturer at Harvard University.


There has been a movement in these Nordic countries, not only Norway, but also in Sweden and Finland pushed by the Sami Community for a truth commission. I think we need to see this in a broader, global context where there has been a big focus on transitional justice over the years. We’ve seen an outburst of truth commissions across the world.

Elin Skaar
Research Professor, Christian Michelsen Institute in Norway
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It’s difficult to assess whether it’s been successful or not but, as I said, there are certain indicators for example, whether it was victim-centered, whether it was locally owned, whether survivors and victims receive reparations, whether they were treated in a specific way in terms of consultative process, whether women were included in the process. I think that we can set up a list of indicators for short-term success, but in terms of longer-term success, that’s a little bit more difficult to assess.

Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman
Senior Director, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
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In November, 1979, five people were murdered in Greensboro North Carolina when members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party fired into a group of protesters. Community members and survivors were interested in understanding how a situation like that could have occurred in their community. In the past few years, the Greensboro Truth Commission did acknowledge the findings in the report. They issued an official apology. There have been changes in the Greensboro Police Department... if we think long-term, there is potential. I look to Greensboro’s process as an example of how laying the seeds of this type of important work can ultimately pay off. It’s often described as the first official type of commission in the United States.

Gloria Ayee
Political scientist and lecturer, Harvard University
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Episode Transcript