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Is 'Truth Commission' the way forward for Northern Ireland?

Almost 30 other countries have used one to encourage reconciliation.

File photo dated of Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness smiling after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembley, Stormont, in 2007.

FORMER PSNI ASSISTANT chief constable Peter Sheridan has suggested it’s time for Northern Ireland to set up a truth commission. Sheridan’s suggestion came after Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness met with loyalist paramilitary figures at a public event in west Belfast.

Sheridan says that people are ready to accept each other, without having to agree with each other.

Truth commissions have been set up in around 30 countries to date, according to Amnesty International. They give people from all sides of a dispute an opportunity to speak about the violence and crimes they have suffered or committed during a particular period.

A truth commission might be able to ascertain the locations of the remains of victims of violence, which have not yet been located.

Three countries which have used the truth commission process as a means of overcoming years of violence:

1. South Africa:

A truth commission to investigate the effects of apartheid was set up by President Nelson Mandela and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1995. The victims and perpetrators of violence were invited to give statements, and people could seek amnesty from prosecution.

After the commission had finished, some said the opportunity to give and receive apologies for violence was a reconciliatory approach to human rights violations. Others criticised the commission’s amnesty clause, saying it meant that some people were never prosecuted for their crimes.

2. East Timor

A truth commission was established in East Timor in 2001 by the UN transitional administration to investigate human rights violations committed between April 1974 and October 1999.

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The final report recommended not punishing those responsible for violence, but instead to encourage people to work for community reconciliation by being open with each other about how they had felt during the years of violence.

3. Panama

Panama‘s truth commission ran for a year and three months from January 2001, and focused on human rights abuses during General Torrijos’s reign and that of his successor, General Noriega.

Torrijos seized power in 1968 via a military takeover. The commission concluded that the military regimes had engaged in torture, and discovered 24 graves of people killed during the dictatorships.

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