Truth Commission Impact: A Participation-Based Implementation Agenda

39 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2013 Last revised: 14 May 2013

Date Written: 2012


With a focus on truth commissions, this Essay argues for a new approach to assessing the impact or effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms. It recognizes at least four discernible approaches to impact assessment in the current literature. I term these “Quantifiable Truth,” “Victim Perception,” “Formal Political Rights,” and “Redistributive Development.” While each has added important and complementary insights to the field, each has also exhibited important weaknesses in its ability to speak persuasively to the question of meaningful long-term impact on the societal dynamics and institutions that lead to violence in the first place. To help fill this gap, I propose a new, more process-oriented research agenda for measuring the impact of transitional justice mechanisms, which I term “Participatory Engagement.”

This research agenda utilizes a new set of metrics or methodological indicators to help guide assessments of truth commission impact. They include: (1) the density, distribution and scope of domestic civil society groups organized around the implementation process, (2) the institutional framework established by government to orchestrate the implementation process, including how that framework incorporates civil society participation at both local and national levels, and (3) the extent of implementation of a truth commission's recommendations, both quantitatively and qualitatively. These indicators, I argue, are better able to assess the impact of a truth commission on the societal transformations necessary to prevent a repetition of past violence. They are thus particularly relevant for those concerned about impact and particularly prevention.

Keywords: transitional justice, truth commissions, impact assessments, participation, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies

Suggested Citation

Melish, Tara J., Truth Commission Impact: A Participation-Based Implementation Agenda (2012). Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 19, 2012; SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-044. Available at SSRN:

Tara J. Melish (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
525 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
(716) 645-2257 (Phone)

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