International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The Power of Truth

In “Truth Skepticism: An Inquiry into the Value of Truth in Times of Transition,” Erin Daly captured the powerlessness associated with truth. Most articles we have read prior seem to paint the truth as a panacea for the suffering felt by victims of gross human rights violations. According to them, somehow, knowing the truth will bring peace and relief to the individuals that have lost their rights and possibly their loved ones to an unjust regime.

In reality, the truth brings back memories of hurt and suffering for victims; it highlights their status as the victimized. While it can bring closure to those who wondering about forced disappearances, it does little to those who have been wronged. The truth is by no means a cure-all. In fact, the truth has been known to disrupt stability, and is one of the reasons there is little national cooperation with the International Tribunals we have previously studied. The truth is a concept simultaneously powerful and powerless. It is powerful in that the search for truth can disrupt the legitimacy of a regime tending to repairing prior violations, yet it is powerless in giving victims the rights that were taken from them or a new life. To individuals stuck in a stagnant transitional government, the truth is only an intangible concept reminding them of the past, doing nothing to propel them forward.

Daly ascertains that truth is worthless without accountability; trials and amnesties following the unveiling of abuses past. Perpetrators don’t fear the truth; they fear the accountability that they could be forced to take as a result of the truth-seeking process. That is when the truth becomes powerful: when it is attached to a punitive process, a deterrent from future infringements upon human rights. Although in an ideal world, individuals would be at peace with the truth, in our very real world, individuals seek someone to blame. It is a natural and psychological for their to be justice and punishment taken against someone who so vehemently violated the rights of another. Therefore, without accountability and retributive trials, the truth is worthless. It is a fact that might bring a modicum of relief to a wronged individual.

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2 responses to “The Power of Truth

  1. kquinteroh November 19, 2012 at 1:18 am

    Your post brings up some interesting points about we think about and idealize truth. Reading Mendez’s piece about the cases in Latin America made me think about the role that time has within the understanding and acceptance of truth. Since several of the cases relating to dictatorships in Latin America took place in the 1970s and 1980s, we have the advantage of looking at them with hindsight that we do not yet posses for the more current cases. The cases of Argentina and Chile stood out to me because the process of political stabilization at first included amnesties but later moved on to pursue the establishment of what they refer to as ‘individualized truths’.

    This makes me think of the claim made in the Olsen article that truth commissions are best used when paired with trials and amnesties. However, a further question that might be worth asking is if all of these processes should be happening at the same time. Does doing so make the different goals of each form of transitional justice work against each other?

    If amnesties, trials, and truth commissions were to be spaced out within the process of transition, some problems would arise such as the difficulty in determining what order they should take place or even how long each stage should last (specially since some of their work might significantly overlap). Also, in some of the other cases we have studied, it seems that the fact that these processes occur simultaneously actually leads to more successful results because of the ways they support each other. However, the situation of the victims and survivors must also be taken into consideration because it seems unfair that they have to wait until the acceptance of this larger truth for them to receive the attention they need.

    Perhaps the role time actually plays here is to demonstrate the sustained commitment on behalf of the government and society to achieve a more comprehensive and widely-accepted understanding of truth. Furthermore, it might be that through this commitment new norms are created and embedded into a previously divided society.

  2. parvathy249 November 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    While it is commendable to point out the simultaneous power and powerlessness of the truth, what Daly truly sought to highlight was the importance of narrowing goals for truth commissions, so as to avoid a powerlessness aspect.

    Daly asserts that governments that are committee to looking backward “must be clear about what they hope to accomplish and must develop institutions and programs that are carefully designed to accomplish specified goals.” By this measure, the truth cannot be both powerful and powerless. By holding truth commissions accountable to various standards, (which their mandates do not promise to complete) we are undervaluing the truth; which is the underlying premise of Daly’s argument.

    Truth is not “worthless without accountability,” truth is worthless only if accountability is what it seeks and it fails to do so. However, most truth commissions seek to simply bring the truth to light and compile facts of what actually happened. If accountability through trials happens concurrently, then it is an added bonus but not a measure of the commission’s success.

    The concept of time that was brought up is also an interesting one that speaks to the effectiveness of commissions. Are truth commissions more effective when they are taking place within a certain time range after the violations? Are they less effective if more time has passed? Or more effective since people have had some time to heal and gather their thoughts?

    Daly also brings up the importance of recognizing the actual benefits associated with truth telling. Is he implying that truth is not good for its own sake? Does the unearthing of facts during a period of human rights violations only yield positive results when it leads to a consequential trial or a change in legislation?

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