Truth and reconciliation at the grassroots : community truth processes in the Southern United States

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Truth commissions are implemented in order to "deal with the past" in the context of a transition in government from authoritarian to democratic rule. At the center of a truth commission is a truth process that attempts to establish the experience of gross human rights abuse at the hands of the state, and does so in a way which places the victims of such abuse at the center of the process, through valuing victim testimony as "truth." It is done with the assumption in mind, that in order for a society, or community, to have healthy relations in the future, violent past experiences must be faced and dealt with. Communities at a local level have imitated the structure, goals and procedures of truth commissions in projects that have been termed "Unofficial Truth Projects." This thesis compares three case studies of unofficial truth projects which have taken place in the Southern United States in the past few years: The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Greensboro, North Carolina, which sought to establish a community reconciliation process 25 years after what has come to be known as the "Greensboro Massacre"; and two civil-society based truth processes, the Katrina National Justice Commission and the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which seek to establish truth and gain reparations for human rights abuses which have taken place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The author considers various projects in a comparative manner, and through examining their histories, structures and ideological make-up, analyzes the processes in terms how these factors affect the ability for the project to: gain legitimacy as a truth process, generate resources and support, acknowledge victims' experiences, and engage the community in reconciliation efforts. The author also echoes the calls for a shift in paradigm in reconciliation and transitional justice literature, which would allow for a space to exist for truth processes that may be unofficial and fall outside a context of a formal transition. Such processes could still greatly benefit communities living in post-conflict contexts and with histories of racial and political violence, such as many communities in the Southern United States.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 94-98).