Humanity’s Histories: Evaluating the Historical Accounts of International Tribunals and Truth Commissions
28 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 14, 2011
Since the trials of high-ranking Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg during 1945-1946, commentators have been asking whether courts are the best place to write a history of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This debate gained momentum during the 1961 Eichmann trial in Israel and the Holocaust trials in France in the 1970s and 1980s, and took on new relevance during the wave of democratizations in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1990s, the United Nations and major donor governments adopted official policies stating that the task of writing a new official history was central to facilitating both co-existence and accountability after authoritarianism and violent conflict, and they promoted new institutions such as truth and reconciliation commissions to fulfill this undertaking. Now it is time to critically evaluate this range of institutions and ask: have international tribunals or commissions of inquiry actually provided significant insights into the origins and causes of political violence? How might states or international institutions document human rights violations in a way that is comprehensive and engages in a meaningful reckoning with the past?
Keywords: international criminal tribunals, truth commissions, historical accounts of human rights violations
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