Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Truth team: It’s not too late to snatch victory for victims

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 (TJRC).
This was followed a week later by an international conference at McGill University in Canada on the importance of truth and reconciliation commissions 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 were to evaluate the TJRC report and explore strategies for pushing for implementation of its recommendations.
The conference provided victims and survivors with the first real opportunity to interrogate the outcome of the truth seeking process and discuss the status of the report and prospects for its implementation.
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 provided specific timelines on the presentation of the report to the President, its publication in the Kenya Gazette, its tabling before Parliament, and the implementation of its recommendations.
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; the President was three weeks late in receiving the report; the Government Printer has so far refused to publish it despite having been paid by the TJRC; and instead of facilitating the implementation of the report’s recommendations by establishing an implementation committee, Parliament amended the TJRC Act to give itself power to reopen the report to remove parts it did not like.
In this environment, justice for victims and survivors has become a mirage that seems to recede 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 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.
There was common agreement that TRCs had become an important, if imperfect, tool 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 reform of abusive institutions. And to promote good democratic governance, TRCs should also contribute to genuine reconciliation.
Measured against these indicators, the Kenyan truth seeking process is at serious risk of failure. During its lifetime, the TJRC delivered little truth, justice or reconciliation, and the steps Kenya has taken 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 from the jaws of defeat for victims. 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 programme adviser for Kenyans with Peace, Truth and Justice
Published in Saturday Nation of 22 March 2014 and can be accessed here:

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