Doing justice to history in the face of gross human rights violations: epistemic justice of truth commissions and human rights reports in Guatemala, Serbia and Sierra Leone

Ratip, Mehmet
This thesis examines the question of how societies deal with the legacy of gross human rights violations. More specifically, it examines the work of official human rights investigations called truth commissions which have been established in increasing numbers since the 1980s in post-conflict countries across the world as institutional responses to gross human rights violations. It involves a close study of reports written by three most prominent international human rights organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Center for Transitional Justice) on the truth commissions in Guatemala, Serbia and Sierra Leone. A theory of epistemic justice is developed from a comparative analysis of human rights reports written to evaluate truth commissions. Epistemic justice is conceptualized as “doing justice to history” by producing impartial and consensual knowledge exhibiting the injustices of past violations. It is argued that the perspective of epistemic justice captures truth commissions’ special contribution to political transitions, a contribution distinct from “criminal justice” provided by the courts (doing justice to law) and “transitional justice” provided by political processes (doing justice to politics). Accordingly, it is claimed that the success or failure of truth commissions should be evaluated in light of whether they realize a reliable documentation of gross violations. An ethical perspective in which truth commissions are seen as ends in themselves is proposed, in contrast to a prudential understanding of truth commissions as means to certain ends, such as criminal prosecutions and political regeneration, with which they may be overburdened to the point of failure.


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Citation Formats
M. Ratip, “Doing justice to history in the face of gross human rights violations: epistemic justice of truth commissions and human rights reports in Guatemala, Serbia and Sierra Leone,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2014.