Commissions of Inquiry
Commissions of inquiry are non-judicial fact-finding bodies that are established in the aftermath of conflict for the purpose of providing a narrative of events which took place during specified period(s) of unrest. Commissions of inquiry are generally delegated a range of powers depending on their context and typically issue a final fact-finding report at the conclusion of their investigations, which includes determinations of responsibility and the formulation of recommendations. All share a commitment to fact-finding and helping societies to heal and implement successful, post-conflict transitions.
Commissions of inquiry have been instituted around the world for many years. For a more general overview, a number of commissions are described below:
1983 Argentina: National Commission on the Disappeared
The National Commission on the Disappeared was established by Argentine President Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín to investigate the forced disappearances and incidents of torture that occurred during Argentina’s Dirty War. This eight-year period of state-sponsored violence had taken place under the military dictatorship of Jorge Videla. The Commission’s mandate was narrowly defined and focused on investigating the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared. The Commission collected thousands of statements from various affected groups and individuals and issued a 50,000-page final report entitled Nunca Mas (“Never Again”). This report identified 365 secret detention centers in addition to the names of 9,000 disappeared persons. Following the report, nine of Argentina’s top former Junta leaders were brought to trial. The state also passed several laws granting reparations to some categories of survivors and family members of those who had perished during the conflict. Published in 1984, Nunca Mas remains a best-selling work in Argentina.
1990 Chile: The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation
The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation was established by Chilean President Patricio Aylwin to investigate the deaths and disappearances that occurred during the 17 years of rule under military dictator Augusto Pinochet. While the Commission was tasked with collecting information, it did not have access to military records, nor did it have the power to compel evidence from former military personnel. At the time of its operation, Pinochet continued to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean army, and the appointed Commissioners were evenly split between his supporters and opponents. In its final report, the Commission provided details on the 2,115 individuals killed by government forces and provided in-depth evidence as to the methods of torture that the military and police had used. President Aylwin subsequently issued a public apology to victims of state crimes and created several funds for victims and their family members. Finally, despite the issuance of a blanket amnesty by the Pinochet government ahead of the transfer of power, several military officers were indicted for their role in orchestrating civilian deaths.
1995 South Africa: Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Perhaps the most widely-recognized commission of its kind, the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by the incoming South African Government of National Unity following the end of apartheid rule in the state. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was vested with the power to grant legal amnesty to those who had committed human rights abuses in instances where full disclosure was provided, and in cases where the crimes in question were deemed to be of a politically-motivated nature. The Commission collected testimonies from over 20,000 individuals and was endorsed by high-profile religious figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who emphasized the Commission’s compatibility with Christian and African Ubuntu values of forgiveness and repentance. While just 15% of applicants who applied for amnesty were pardoned, almost no subsequent efforts were made to prosecute those who had been found responsible.
1997 Guatemala: Commission for Historical Clarification
The Guatemala Commission for Historical Clarification was established in 1994 following a United-Nations brokered peace agreement. The agreement ended 36 years of civil war between the Guatemalan government and communist forces. The Commission was granted a broad mandate that included the power to investigate human rights abuses which occurred during the conflict, and also the social and economic factors that contributed to the outbreak of violence. The Commission’s final report released a figure of total deaths resulting from the conflict, which it estimated to be 200,000. The final report was also one of the first to directly recommend the implementation of structural reform in the country.
2002 Sierra Leone: Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Following over a decade of civil war in Sierra Leone between the government and the rebel forces, the Revolutionary United Front, the two parties signed the Lomé Peace Agreement in 1999. This agreement ended hostilities and provided for the establishment of a truth commission in the country. The Sierra Leone Truth Commission was enacted the following year and granted a mandate to produce a report on human rights violations and to provide a forum for victims to express their grievances. The final report of the Commission was issued in 2004 and included the names of high-level orchestrators of human rights abuses. The Commission identified corruption as the main driver of conflict and issued a number of legally-binding recommendations, including a reparations program and stricter controls over the Sierra Leonean judiciary and parliament.
2004 Morocco: Equity and Reconciliation Commission
The Morocco Equity and Reconciliation Commission was established by King Mohammed VI to investigate the disappearances and state-sponsored violence which had occurred over a 43-year period. The period began with Morocco’s independence in 1956 and ended in 1999 with the death of King Mohammed VI’s father, King Hassan II. The Commission was the first of its kind in the Arab world and one of the first to be founded during a monarchical transition. The Commission distributed almost $85 million worth of reparations to 9,799 affected individuals, but without revealing the identities of state agents implicated in past incidents of abuse. In addition, the Commission had no power to compel individuals to testify at any of the seven public hearings which it organized around the country. In its final report, the Commission placed the number of disappeared persons at 742 and described the methods of torture that had been utilized by state authorities.
2011 Libya: United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry
The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Libya was established pursuant to a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution in February of this year. M. Cherif Bassiouni, Chairman of the BICI, was appointed as its chairperson. Judge Philippe Kirsch, one of the BICI Commissioners, also served on the Commission. The U.N. Human Rights Council asked the Commission to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and to establish the facts and circumstances of the violations and crimes which had been perpetrated. When possible, the Commission was asked to identify the individuals who were responsible for human rights violations throughout the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and also violations committed before, during and after the demonstrations witnessed in a number of cities in the country in February 2011. Finally, the Commission was tasked with making recommendations to ensure that the responsible individuals were held accountable. The Commission made factual findings and offered its recommendations to the Government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and to the National Transitional Council.