A Comparative Analysis
In an effort to contextualize this initiative, comparative research and analysis on methods and frameworks of various Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) projects provided insightful information. TRC models have been critical in resolving deeply rooted conflicts around the world, promoting the belief that confronting and reckoning with the past is necessary for successful transitions from conflict, resentment and tension to peace and connectedness.
While the first truth commission was formed in Uganda in 1974, others were initiated throughout Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, taking the form of fact-finding, non-judicial committees or councils with the express purpose of uncovering the abuses committed by dictatorships and military juntas, and concomitantly, establishing a more inclusive and representative narrative of history for the country. Since the 1990s, even more countries in Latin America and Africa used this process, as have Australia, Canada and a few communities in the United States, followed with reconciliation after periods of inter-group conflict and political transition.
The processes for these models have varied, though they typically involve both public and private activities designed to uncover and deepen the understanding of tragedies and/or human rights violations. TRC’s have continued to evolve, and particularly serve as an inspiration in the United States to redress historic legacies and to address the ongoing violence perpetrated against African Americans. The Carnegie Council’s 2015 essay, “Examining the Potential for an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission” completed an analysis of several models for these commissions. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation also completed a TRC Comparison Booklet featuring 17 distinct initiatives, including those with national, federal-based focus like President Clinton’s Initiative on Race and the Japanese Internment initiative which resulted in an apology, reparations, and the preservation of 10 detention sites as national landmarks; private efforts such as that taken on by Brown University to investigate and prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, or that of the Episcopal Church to recognize its own participation and complicity in slavery.
Comparative Analysis - Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
As noted previously, the Carnegie Council and the WKKF have produced thorough reports on many of TRC’s over the past 30 years. I have also summarized below some primary findings into my own framework/outline.
South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- Under the guidance of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC was established by the authority of the government of South African. The governing act was: Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995. It operated, however, as an independent commission.
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Precipitating Events:
- In the aftermath of apartheid, the focus was on transforming race relations in a nationwide context and emphasizing restorative justice
- While the effort to create a commission began in 1994, the TRC commenced on December 1, 1995. The commission officially ended its work in July 1998 after nearly three years of hearings and investigations into human rights violations committed during the apartheid era.
- The commission implemented its mandate through three committees: the Amnesty Committee, Reparation and Rehabilitation (R&R) Committee and Human Rights Violations (HRV) Committee that ensured that both rehabilitation and reparations would be provided on an individual basis. It did not offer widespread amnesty to perpetrators, but instead enticed them to come forward and admit their guilt in exchange for amnesty case-by-case.
- The TRC also created a Register of Reconciliation, which provided the public an opportunity to express their regret at failing to prevent human rights violations and to demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation. Live broadcasts of testimony of South Africans before the commissioners in a court-like setup were shown internationally.
- The TRC favored an individualized approach that placed victims and perpetrators at the center of the process, rather than the apartheid system itself and its structures of governance. This framing may limit the applicability of the South African model to other settings since the focus upon ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ individualized the reconciliation process and allowed the system of apartheid, and those who worked within it, to remain in the shadows, hidden from scrutiny. Any TRC model that bypasses the role of institutions and structures of governance is heavily flawed regarding addressing structural racism.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
(the first TRC to in a society not undergoing fundamental government transition)
- Federal Government through an Order in Council, Schedule N of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
- Canada (office in Winnipeg, Manitoba)
- Precipitating Events:
- The abuses perpetrated by the church and government-run institutions against First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children in the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. Focus expanded to examine historic racist violence against Canada’s indigenous peoples.
- 2009 - 2015
- Built upon the “Statement of Reconciliation” dated January 7, 1998 and the principles developed by the Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation and of the Exploratory Dialogues (1998-1999), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established in 2009. It spent six years traveling the country to hear the stories of more than 6,000 witnesses, and held seven national events that lasted four days each.
- Commission Members: There were 3 commission members, appointed from a pool of candidates nominated by former students, Aboriginal organizations, churches and government. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) was consulted in making the final decisions and consideration was given to at least one of the three members being an Aboriginal person.
- There was also a ten-member Indian Residential Schools Survivor Committee that served as an advisory body to the TRC, as well as an Inuit Subcommission.
- A final report released during a live webcast; creation of National Center for Truth and Reconciliation; calls to Action with 94 recommendations in education, health, child welfare, criminal justice
- The Canadian TRC treated the IRS system as a crime against humanity, and much like South Africa and apartheid, was not shy to label the system as one that perpetuated cultural genocide. At the same time, however, it repeated the same mistake as South Africa: the structures of governance that created the IRS system were not been critically examined. Additionally, the majority white, non-Aboriginal populace was largely disengaged from the process and further First Nations and Inuit communities were engaged on a case-by-case basis, compartmentalizing the process, as opposed to allowing the communities to lead the process themselves in a more culturally and historically nuanced way.
- The way in which the TRC emerged — from a legal process that required it, rather than emerging from a grassroots community effort — raised questions about the political will to continue wider reconciliation efforts after the mandate expired in June 2015.
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- Greensboro, North Carolina
- Precipitating Event:
- On November 3, 1979, in Greensboro, local Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party members ambushed a coalition of racial and economic justice protesters, killing and/or wounding more than 20 people.
- Address the lasting effects of the massacre and the multiple exonerations by all-white juries, of the KKK and Nazi Party members involved, as well as policemen who had the knowledge to prevent the massacre.
- 7 commission members including the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (the United States affiliate of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation); an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the School of Education at N.C. A & T State University; a consultant and former city councilwoman, a counselor, certified nursing assistant and community activist; a retired corporate attorney; executive director of Greensboro’s Faith Action International House; and a retired manager with Wrangler Corporation
- GTRCP (Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project) coalesced and established mandate for a TRC; Andrus Family Fund and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), and a National Advisory Committee provided financial, strategic and advisory support; founding documents include the Guiding Principles and the Commission selection process.
- Activities included engaging with the Greensboro community through a variety of educational, cultural and spiritual activities; collecting 67 Commission nominees from the community and assembling a Selection Panel representing 14 different sectors of the community; regular Commission meetings; community forums, public hearings.
- 500 page final report issued and included recommendations for public memorials, apologies, government reforms, police reviews, increased wages for city employees, and revised school curriculum. The TRC successfully brought the perpetrators, the survivors, and the victims’ families into public forums to recount the precipitating event, and at the same time allowed open discussion of the presence of systemic and societal racism. In 2015, City Council approved a historical marker memorializing the precipitating event.
- Despite the many positive aspects of the Greensboro process, ultimately many of its recommendations were not embraced or implemented. Although the TRC sought the support of the city of Greensboro, ultimately the predominantly white City Council rejected the TRC process and the commission’s final report — and instead, only offered a statement of regret.
- To institute long-term change, a TRC needs local government actors to commit to the changes necessary.
The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare
- The state’s governor, in collaboration with five tribal chiefs
- Maine and Tribal state compact, located within its boundaries (Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Passamaquoddy at Sipayik and Motahkomikuk, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, and the Penobscot Nation).
- Precipitating Event:
- An era in the state’s history that saw Native children sent into foster care at an alarmingly high rate, calling into question the state’s adherence to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. Specifically it was to investigate “whether or not the removal of Wabanaki children from their communities has continued to be disproportionate to non-Native children and to make recommendations that can promote individual, relational, systemic and cultural reconciliation.”
- Began 2012 continuing for approximately 2½ years
- Five commission members, including a Wampanoag man and a Sicangu Lakota adoptee from the Rosebud Reservation who was a child welfare consultant; the then Secretary of State, a faculty member at the University of Maine School of Social Work and an educational/organizational development consultant.
- With funding from the Andrus Family Fund in 2008, the process began to create a TRC; in 2009, the Native child welfare workers invited the Maine Office of Child & Family Services (OCFS) to join them in writing the Declaration of Intent to create a TRC, subsequently signed in 2010 by the governor and 5 tribes; Mandate for TRC signed in 2012, which identified the Commission’s responsibilities, timelines and guidelines for its interactions with Tribal communities; In 2013, the Commission was seated during a day-long event held in Hermon, Maine. The previous day, a “Day of Reflection, Meditation and Prayer,” was held across the state, uniting diverse communities and organizations to pause in support of the TRC’s work and purpose. The Commission’s service was anticipated to run as long as 36 months; the TRC Commissioners, staff and truth and reconciliation consultants gathered for intensive planning sessions, named staff, and opened its office in 2013.
- After months of preparation, the Commission took testimony and met with individuals, families and child welfare workers. To build relationships, they planned extended stays in each tribal community. In these communities, groups formed to provide support for those affected by the truth-telling process.
- The TRC engaged both Native and non-Native populations, being both very responsive to the needs of tribal communities and navigating non-Native networks within one of the more sparsely populated and geographically isolated states of the east coast. Specifically, the outcomes:
Report by Commission (2015) recommending a range of actions for addressing the inequities it found. (There has not been sufficient time to assess the full impact)
In addition to recommendations specific to the operation of the Maine child welfare system, the Commission advocated that the people of Maine:
“Respect tribal sovereignty and commit to resolve and uphold federal, state and tribal jurisdictions and protocols at both state and local levels, and
“Honor Wabanaki choices to support healing as the tribes see fit and celebrate the cultural resurgence of the tribes within the Wabanaki confederacy so that both individuals and communities may be strengthened
- The outcomes of the TRC lacks widespread understanding in the state amongst the non-Native population, and the grassroots nature of the MWTRC, like Greensboro, has resulted in funding challenges. Nevertheless, the MWTRC may provide one the most innovative model for others in the country, to replicate and adapt accordingly.
- Learning lessons from the TRCs in South Africa, Canada, and Greensboro, the MWTRC has managed to pioneer a very different model. Like South Africa, the MWTRC drafted its mandate and formed a commission, in this case to inquire into the forced removal of Native children and those affected during the process, while also (unlike South Africa) placing the state and its child welfare system under examination. The truth-telling and healing mechanisms of the MWTRC are very similar to those seen in the Canadian TRC process, such as sharing circles and private testimony. The MWTRC also sought to change child welfare practices fundamentally and systemic reconciliation between the child welfare practices of the state and those of the tribes.
- Learning from Greensboro, the MWTRC obtained the signatures of the five tribal governments and the state of Maine, and, like Greensboro, also formed an organization (i.e. Maine Wabanaki REACH) to help fulfill the specific and wider goals of the TRC within and beyond its mandate.
Confederate Memorials Removal Initiative - New Orleans, LA
- New Orleans City Council, as outlined in City Code Section 146-611, which governs the procedure for removal of public property structures that are deemed to be a nuisance.
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- 2015 - 2017
- Precipitating Event:
- 2018 Tricentennial planning and 2015 Charleston/Mother Bethel murders
- 60-day period of facilitated discussions and public meetings, in conjunction with the City’s Human Relations Commission, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Mayor’s Welcome Table initiative, the Vieux Carre Commission, the City Attorney’s Office, the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, the director of the Property Management Department and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin
- To explore, particularly for those that did not have a voice at the time of installation, whether the Confederate monuments, built to reinforce the false valor of a war fought over slavery, ever really belonged in New Orleans, particularly as the city looked to its 2018 tricentennial.
- New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to remove four monuments to the Confederacy from prominent places in the city including statues of Gens. Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The removal was supported by a local landmarks commission, the Human Relations Commission and Clergy for a United City, “a citywide interfaith group of nearly 100 pastors of leaders. [POSTSCRIPT: With the election of a new mayor in 2017, a new commission was established to determine new placement of the removed memorials which has caused dissent, as at least two are recommended to be placed in an area easily visible to the public, though not on public land].