Truth commissions in Africa: Learning over a decade
This paper examines the learning processes of truth commissions and their institutional dynamics in order to trace how these human rights organizations learn and change as they carry out their mandates. Using qualitative methodology, the study investigates the role and influence of human rights norms while tracing the learning processes of truth commissions. The effect of truth commissions on international norms and law is also studied as part of the broader question of how these institutions acquire knowledge. Finally, the research findings are analyzed to determine whether realism, constructivism, or institutionalism best explains the observed phenomena. Two claims regarding truth commissions are made. The first claim is that the standardized organizational format of truth commissions affects how they learn, implement changes, and carry out their investigatory mandates. The second claim is that given their limited lifespan as organizations, truth commissions have developed institutional processes of acquiring knowledge that relies heavily and exclusively on previous commissions, international human rights NGOs, and U.N. human rights departments. This paper argues that this reliance on past practices and standardization leads to unintended consequences that sometime hamper the effective execution of truth commissions' mandates.