A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is a form of restorative justice aimed at the healing of a community broken apart by violence and oppression. The Commission hearings create a safe space where perpetrators and sufferers of that violence can meet safely and discuss the violent actions. By meeting face to face with the sufferers the perpetrators can begin to be restored to full standing in the society. The establishment of a commission encourages a belief that “the truth will set us free.”
A TRC is theoretically based in the awareness that the events of the past will haunt the present and the future until injustices are brought to light, in an atmosphere in which reconciliation is at least theoretically possible. When grievances are addressed in this way, ventilating the need for vengeance and to some degree healing the alienation caused by the hostilities, a community may succeed in breaking the cycle of violence. The commission interrupts the potential for future instances of similarly motivated violent acts.
The first widely known instance of a TRC was set up in South Africa to address the enormous violence that had been carried out in the name of racial segregation under the infamous apartheid regime. Since then, it has had diverse incarnations throughout the world, including Rwanda, where it is drawing upon a pre-existing indigenous system of courts called Gacaca, Liberia, Canada, Chile, and the United States. The effectiveness of TRC to advocate for oppressed groups is debated because some think that restorative action, not just expression of remorse, is necessary to effect real reconciliation. But TRC’s can manage to avoid retribution and encourage basic principles of nonviolence, such as rehumanization, the power of Truth, forgiveness, and returning good for evil.