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HHRI provides information about mental health and human rights violations             Boletín en Español

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See the original newsletter here.Health and Human Rights Info (HHRI) Newsletter April 2019
HHRI provides information about mental health and human rights violations         Spanish Boletín

Overview of content 
Transitional justice and mental health
Further reading on transitional justice
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Photo: Marino Cordoba Colombia’s human rights defender during his visit to Oslo.

Dear friends and colleagues
Transitional justice and mental health

“We want to know the truth. Who ordered the killings of my family and the people in my village?” Legitimate questions from Marino Cordoba, a Human rights defender and a social leader from Riosucio in Colombia. These were some of the expectations that the truth commission was met with, when set to work in Colombia in December 2018.

The question is of course – will the people of Colombia be provided with the full truth through the work of the truth commission? Few of us are in doubt as to the importance of transitional processes in situations following a conflict, when peace agreements are signed, and the reconstruction of society is needed. As part of such processes, truth commissions, investigations and legal procedures, as well as different forms of reparations, are vital. In this context, forgiveness, in addition to reconciliation, is often described as important parts of this.

But what does it take for those who have lost and suffered, to forgive, or to reconcile with persons formerly seen as enemies or even oppressors? What role does the truth commission play in this? It is evident that people have the right to know, but it is not always so clear that truth alone provides the sense of restoration that the victims and survivors are looking for and that the peace process requires when a conflict is over.

Examples from different countries that have carried out truth commissions, indicates that the process may be of value, but often not enough to restore the balance and sense of justice.  The experiences with truth commissions in South Africa, Uganda, Guatemala, Rwanda and Kenya are evidence of important steps, but more is usually needed. According to Pathak (2017) transitional justice constitutes a five-pillar approach: truth, justice, healing, prosecution and reparation, as ways of confronting and dealing with the authoritarian or violent past.  So, one can say that without all the five pillars, and probably, without the clear presence of justice and accountability, the transition of a community from conflict to peace will face difficulties.

As a means of supporting victims and as a way for them to move forward, the role of the truth commissions and their effects have been much debated. Pathak also underlines that the budget often allocated to the commissions and the amount defined for reparations to the victims, are usually very inadequate, and the lack of official policies and inadequate legislation and regulations to govern these processes, are factors that can jeopardies these important and needed processes.

Hayes in Hamber (2007) claims that “Revealing is not simply healing; the process of healing depends on how we reveal, the context of the revealing, and what it is that we are revealing”. The truth may be a collection of past events, consisting of different interpretations and recollection of what happened. It is vital that victims, the survivors and those participating in the transitional processes consider these as fair and just, and that those involved are met with respect and in a dignified manner in order for them not to be revictimized in the process. These are some of the important issues that must be taken into consideration when working with victims engaging in truth commissions.
Please have a look at the links below and at our thematic page on transitional justice for more information related to the topic.

Further reading on transitional justice

Charles Mulinda Kabwete 2018
This theoretical discussion around the concepts of truth, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation after conflict has showed to what extent these concepts are interconnected. We saw that those who seek truth have to pass through a negotiation process or something that looks like a negotiation. Those who narrate this truth, recall past events but also interpret and even reinterpret them. This whole exercise can be seen as an attempt to contextualise the collection of truth but also to problematise it. Truth in most cases is plural, not singular.

A Comparative Study of World’s Truth Commissions: From Madness to Hope
Pathak 2017
Truth Commissions have been established, are being established and will be established based primarily on three notions: Let’s forget the victims to forgive the perpetrators; let’s not forget the victims and forgive the perpetrators; and let’s not forget the victims and not forgive the perpetrators, too. These notions apply to both restorative and retributive justices.

To Prosecute or Not to Prosecute: The Need for Justice in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka

Nadeshda Jayakody 2017
Since the mid-1970s, social psychologists and legal scholars have surveyed people around the world who have participated in judicial proceedings involving crimes committed in domestic jurisdictions to understand what it is about such processes that lead participants to consider them fair or unfair, and ultimately to accept or reject the outcome of such proceedings. Almost universally, these procedural justice studies have found that witnesses define a “fair process” as one that is based largely on three criteria described; benevolence, the degree to which they perceive that the court officials, from judges to social workers, care about them and their experiences; neutrality, the extent to which they have been able to talk about their experiences in a neutral and unbiased forum; and respect, the extent to which they have been treated in a professional and dignified manner.

El Espectador 2018
“We hope we can contribute to Colombia seeking the truth in a sincere, transparent way, which is a public good and is the responsibility of all of us in Colombia. We hope to contribute in depth with our communication and pedagogy and with the Casas de la Verdad that we are starting to open in different regions in the form of a mobile team with the communities,” he said in an interview with the Justice for Peace chapter of Colombia 2020.

While there is growing interest in examining what long-term impact truth commissions have on society, our understanding has been hampered by a number of empirical problems. Specifically, most studies focus on a small biased subsample of cases, rely on anecdotal evidence and normative conviction, and fail to follow the truth commission’s legacy beyond its immediate reception. What is more, although a range of purposes have been put forward for truth commissions, there is little consensus on what criteria might be used to assess them.
ICTJ, Eduardo González, Elena Naughton, Félix Reátegui 2014
Sustainable peace requires more than agreements between leaders: it requires institutions that are worthy of trust, that respect human rights. In turn, these institutions require the confidence of citizens who previously only had reasons to distrust state authorities. Only then is the recurrence of violence less likely.
Robins, Simon 2017
The truth commission is claimed to be ‘victim-centred’, as a result of this process being primarily performative and focussed on victim testimony, institutionalising the truth claims of victims through public truth-telling with the social goal of reconnecting victims and society.
Brandon Hamber*, Dineo Nageng & Gabriel O’Malley 1995

From a psychological (psychoanalytic) perspective, sleeping dogs do not lie and past traumas do not simply pass or disappear with the passage of time; but testimony and telling (and hearing) the truth will not instantaneously result in healing (Hamber, 1995;1998a).  Revealing is not simply healing; the process of healing depends on how we reveal, the context of the revealing, and what it is that we are revealing (Hayes, 1998).  In the final report of the TRC, the Commission acknowledges the healing potential of storytelling, whilst noting that it initiated more than it closed when it came to individual healing (TRC, 1998).

For sale Ruthledge
This book addresses current developments in transitional justice in Latin America – effectively the first region to undergo concentrated transitional justice experiences in modern times. Using a comparative approach, it examines trajectories in truth, justice, reparations, and amnesties in countries emerging from periods of massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The book examines the cases of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, developing and applying a common analytical framework to provide a systematic, qualitative and comparative analysis of their transitional justice experiences. More specifically, the book investigates to what extent there has been a shift from impunity towards accountability for past human rights violations in Latin America.

Download the HHRI GBV manual

Download the manual Mental health and gender-based violence: Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict for free. The manual is also available inArabic, Russian and Spanish. This training material has been written for those who provide assistance and support to women who survive gender-based violence and sexual trauma during disasters, wars and conflicts.  Furthermore, we hope it may be helpful as well to those who work with gender-based violence survivors in other settings. Please share the manual and spread it among your colleagues, organizations or in your community.


View the original newsletter here.

View the original newsletter here.

View the original newsletter here.

View the original newsletter here.






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