TRC should serve as a stepping-stone towards a more lasting solution. Such incremental implementation is essential because it provides the people with the time necessary to be able come to terms with the brutalities committed while allowing the state the time to determine fault and define the meaning of accountability.
Jose Zalaquett was one of the founders of the TRC established in Chile after the Pinochet regime was ousted from the country. In his interview, Zalaquett noted that the Initial Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission acted as a “spearhead,” to allow for further action in the future. He stated that such a small step was vital because, among other reasons, the Chilean people viewed Pinochet as their savior from communism and therefore were not fully willing and able to process and internalize the atrocities committed by his regime. While the intitial TRC did not heal the victim’s wounds or diminish the anxiety caused by living with their former perpetrators, it did serve an essential funtion in the transition to stability. The first stages of the commission demonstrated to the victims that such crimes would not re-occur and thus restored faith and confidence in their society.
If the countries currently in transition do employ a truth and reconciliation commission, they would be best served by following Mr. Zalaquett’s advice.
First, the dynamic between Pinochet and his people is more common than one might think. For example, in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak and his regime were seen in a sense as the protector agaisnt more radical Islamic groups. Soon after Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s third President, signed the Camp David Accords with Israel, he was assasinated by such groups. Hosni Mubarak was not only there but was wounded in the attack. This imagery coupled with Mubarak’s stance against these factions, including their suspension from politics, solidified this view. Therefore, while there certainly are people who will readily accept the truth of such horror stories, there are others who will not. For a truth and reconciliation commission to be successful it is essential that the entire society participates and moving too fast will risk such inclusion.
Secondly, as Mr. Zalaquett stated, the initial phase of the TRC will not give the victims specific protection agianst their former perpetrators but will simply reassure them that their state’s system will no longer allow the same crimes to take place. Simultaneoulsy singling out all of the people in a societal force such as the police or military because of a failure to obtain all the necessary facts to determine culpability will only result in inefficiencies that any society, much less a fledging one, cannot handle. The United States’ disbanding of the Iraqi army after the war could act as an extreme example of what would follow such a decision. Although this was not the result of a TRC, it exhibits the violence and sectarian chaos that may be the result of the rapid hollowing out of a critical public department.
Finally, the Chilean model and Mr. Zalaquett’s comments are in accord with human nature. People who have committed crimes or who have been victims of crimes are more hesitant at first to expound on the events. As opposed to risking the success of the TRC with unrealistic expectations, the first stage should instead, simply establish that there is indeed a forum in which to voice and remedy these grievances when the time is right.