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Truth Commissions
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Truth Commissions
Memory, Power, and Legitimacy

Onur Bakiner

328 pages | 6 x 9 | 1 illus.
Cloth 2016 | ISBN 9780812247626 | $69.95s | Outside the Americas £56.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
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Named Best Book in Human Rights for 2017 by the American Political Science Association

"Onur Bakiner has written a first-rate book that speaks to concerns and debates among students of transitional justice, qualitative methodologists and ethical-normative theorists. Moving well beyond the illuminating—but highly limited—descriptive literature on truth commissions, Bakiner develops a broader argument that captures their operation and impact, highlighting the politics at play. The argument is then tested in a series of narratives that are not only well written, but methodologically self-aware—a rare combination. For all the talk of 'mechanisms' and 'process tracing,' it is refreshing to read a book where they are analytic tools doing real work."—Jeffrey T. Checkel, Simon Fraser University

"Truth Commissions is a wonderful contribution to the increasingly robust scholarship on transitional justice. It brings a fresh perspective on why truth commissions are formed, how they operate under domestic political constraints, and what—if anything—their impact is on post-conflict societies. Through a detailed study of dozens of truth commissions around the world, Onur Bakiner carefully considers not only the pragmatic aspects of truth commissions, but also their ethical and normative impact on societies coming to terms with legacies of mass violence."—Jelena Subotic, author of Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the Past in the Balkans

"Truth Commissions makes an important contribution to scholarship on truth commissions, as well as scholarship on memory politics. It offers an original and compelling argument regarding the role and influence of truth commissions and a useful set of conceptual tools for framing analyses of truth commissions."—Bronwyn Anne Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

Since the 1980s a number of countries have established truth commissions to come to terms with the legacy of past human rights violations, yet little is known about the achievements and shortcomings of this popular transitional justice tool. Drawing on research on Chile's National Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and exploring the scholarship on thirteen other transitional contexts, Onur Bakiner evaluates the success of truth commissions in promoting policy reform, human rights accountability, and the public recognition of human rights violations. He argues that although political elites often see a truth commission as a convenient way to address past atrocities, the findings, historical narratives, and recommendations of such commissions often surprise, upset, and discredit influential political actors. Even when commissions produce only modest change as a result of political constraints, Bakiner contends, they open up new avenues for human rights activism by triggering the creation of new victims' organizations, facilitating public debates over social memory, and inducing civil society actors to monitor the country's human rights policy.

Bakiner demonstrates how truth commissions have recovered basic facts about human rights violations, forced societies to rethink the violence and exclusion of nation building, and produced a new dynamic whereby the state seeks to legitimize its central position between history and politics by accepting a high degree of societal penetration into the production and diffusion of official national history. By doing so, truth commissions have challenged and transformed public discourses on memory, truth, justice, reconciliation, recognition, nationalism, and political legitimacy in the contemporary world.

Onur Bakiner teaches political science at Seattle University.

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