As we enter a new year, we find truth commissions on four continents, opening previously secret archives so that we can know our history and, hopefully, improve our future.

In South America, the Truth Commission of Brazil has just issued its report about the torture carried out by the military dictatorship of 1964-1985. The report contains harrowing accounts of the suffering of hundreds of Brazilians detained and tortured by members of the Armed Forces and police, many of whom were never seen again. The dictatorship targeted not only members of armed groups, but also critics, academics, clergy, trade unionists, rural workers, military officers who advocated a return to democracy, and members of minority and vulnerable groups. According to Human Rights Watch, “it has pointed the way to the next crucial step that Brazil needs to take: making sure that those who committed atrocities are finally brought to justice.” Among those tortured was the current President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.

In Central America, a Truth Commission is being established in Panama. Among other issues, it demands that Washington recognize its invasion 25 years ago, compensate the country and say where are the mass graves have been buried hundreds of Panamanians, besides declaring December 20 as a day of national mourning.

In North America, the Truth Commission of Canada is due to report next June on the effects of the 142 government-run schools on the more than 150,000 aboriginal children taken from their homes and uprooted from their culture starting in the 1870s. The Commission hopes to advance a process of reconciliation. According to its chairman, "It is about creating a relationship founded on mutual respect between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. It is through the establishment of relationships that we are going to be able to achieve a good nation"

There is less prospect of reconciliation in the other Truth Commission from North America, the U.S. Senate report on torture by the CIA. According to one commentator, "We are beginning to understand the truth of what happened. Our souls are heavy as we learn of the silent, hidden past. Eventually we will pursue more than just truth. We will discuss a formal truth and reconciliation commission, and will investigate who and how to prosecute the perpetrators of torture. . .


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. . . We will hope upon hope for a sincere apology from statesmen, but have little confidence that one will be forthcoming." CIA torture was not limited to the recent revelations, but has a long history of application around the world and especially in Latin America.

In Africa, a Truth Commission has recently been established in Burundi. It will have four years to establish the truth about mass crimes committed in the country between 1962 and 2008; identify and map mass graves; propose a reparations programme; and promote reconciliation and forgiveness. Its beginning is hampered by political opposition.

Finally, in Israel, an unofficial Truth Commission has been launched by the non-governmental organization Zochrot which is dedicated to educating Israeli Jews about what Palestinians call the Nakba. The Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, refers to Israel’s creation on the ruins of their homeland more than six decades ago. According to its director, "We have looked to other such commissions around the world as models, most obviously in South Africa. But unlike the one there, ours does not include the element of reconciliation because the conflict here has yet to be resolved. We cannot talk about reconciliation when the Nakba is ongoing. We are still in a situation where there is apartheid, constant violations of human rights and 70 percent of the Palestinian community are refugees.”

In general, truth commissions are carried out in the tradition of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that enabled a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa during the Presidency of Nelson Mandela and under the direction of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Such commissions will be needed everywhere in the future if we are to make a global transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace.


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Peace, through struggle,

The CPNN Team