Friday, 21 March 2014

It's Not Too Late To Save Truth Report

It's Not Too Late To Save Truth Report

FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014 - 00:00 -- BY NJONJO MUE
In the last two weeks, two important conferences have taken place to evaluate the importance of truth commissions in the search for justice for victims of human rights violations and promoting good governance.
On February 27 and 28, the National Victims and Survivors Network held a conference at Kasarani calling for implementation of the recommendations of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
This was followed a week later by an international conference at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, on the importance of truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) in promoting democratic good governance. While formally unrelated, these conferences raise important questions about the role of truth commissions in consolidating democratic transitions.
 The Kasarani conference brought together 65 Kenyan victims and survivors of human rights violations. Investigating these violations formed the core mandate of the TJRC.
The aims of the conference were to evaluate the contents of the TJRC report and to explore strategies for pushing for the implementation of its recommendations.
 The conference provided the victims and survivors with the first real opportunity to interrogate the outcome of Kenya’s truth seeking process and discuss the current status of the report and the prospects of implementation of its recommendations.
 Of specific concern was that almost a year since the TJRC completed its work at considerable public expense, there had been deafening silence from the government on the fate of its report.
The TJRC Act had provided very specific timelines as to the presentation of the report to the President, its publication in the Kenya Gazette, its tabling before Parliament, and the implementation of its recommendations which was to be overseen by a proposed Implementation Committee. The government was required to report periodically to Parliament on the progress of implementation. But none of this has happened.
Instead, the final days of the TJRC were marred by allegations of political interference with the report-writing process; the President was three weeks late in receiving the report; the Government Printer has so far refused to publish the report despite having been paid to do so by the TJRC; and instead of facilitating the implementation of the report’s recommendations by establishing the proposed implementation committee, Parliament amended the TJRC Act to give itself power to reopen the report to remove the parts that it did not like. In this environment, Justice for victims and survivors has become a mirage that seems to recede further beyond reach with every passing day.
The gathering at McGill University brought together international experts to explore the factors that condition the success of TRCs in contributing to creating social cohesion as a foundation for democratic good governance.
They examined diverse national experiences including from Canada which has an ongoing TRC to investigate the history and abuses of the Indian Residential School System; Argentina which had one of the first TRCs established in 1983; South Africa, whose TRC was among the most celebrated in the world and which has continued to provide inspiration for subsequent truth commissions; Sierra Leone; Australia; Northern Ireland; Guatemala; Brazil; Uruguay and Kenya.
 There was common agreement that TRCs had become an important, if imperfect, tool mandated by law to address past wrongs through restorative justice.
But for a TRC to become effective, it should not be a process that merely creates more processes, nor should it be mere catharsis.
Rather it should lead to concrete action that begets true benefits and delivers real justice to victims through reparations and the reform of abusive institutions.
And to promote good democratic governance, TRCs should also contribute to genuine reconciliation which may be defined as anything that that enables people to live peacefully together.
 Measured against these indicators, the Kenyan truth seeking process is in serious risk of failure. During its lifetime, the TJRC delivered little truth, justice or reconciliation, and the steps Kenya has made so far in achieving good governance have been made in spite, and not because, of the TJRC.
But it is still not too late to snatch victory for victims from the jaws of defeat. The government could yet salvage the TJRC’s legacy by working in good faith to implement its recommendations.

The writer is a human rights lawyer and a program adviser for Kenyans with Peace, Truth and Justice.
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