Mint Primer | J&K: What we know about Truth and Reconciliation commissions

In his concurring but separate opinion on the abrogation of Article 370, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul recommended the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir. (Mint)
In his concurring but separate opinion on the abrogation of Article 370, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul recommended the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir. (Mint)

Summary

  • These bodies aim to heal divided societies and end conflicts. But some say their efficacy is limited

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul has recommended the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Jammu and Kashmir. These bodies aim to heal divided societies and end conflicts. But some say their efficacy is limited. Mint takes a look at the evidence:

What exactly did Justice Kaul say?

In his concurring but separate opinion on the abrogation of Article 370, Kaul recommended the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir to investigate and report on rights violations by both State and non-State actors at least since the 1980s and recommend measures for reconciliation. Kaul said that such a commission would encourage dialogue and could help resolve the distrust and tension that has built up in J&K over decades. Kaul’s recommendation was positively received by attorney general R. Venkatramani and attracted public interest.

What are these commissions?

They are typically established to uncover evidence of oppression and violence in societies that have been riven by long and bitter conflicts. They encourage both victims and perpetrators to come forward and say their piece. This methodology exposes all members of society to the facts of violence and oppression and creates a widely accepted narrative of “the truth", which then prevents denialism. Perpetrators voluntarily confessing their crimes leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. In some cases, perpetrators are allowed amnesty. Thus, both perpetrators and victims are able to move forward together.

Have such truth commissions been set up elsewhere?

In over 40 countries, including Sierra Leone, Canada, South Korea and Chile, but most famously in South Africa at the end of apartheid. Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s TRC used large, televised public meetings to hear from victims and oppressors, capturing worldwide attention. Kaul repeatedly cited South Africa in his Article 370 judgment.

How effective are these TRCs?

Some experts believe TRCs have achieved remarkable success in helping societies move forward. Others disagree, saying many among South Africa’s white minority saw the exercise as a witch-hunt. Victims did not receive reparations in many cases and scores of oppressors—those that did not receive amnesty—did not face timely justice. TRCs also do little to alter structural inequalities. South Africa, for example, remains one of the most racially unequal and divided societies because of its history.

How would it operate in Kashmir?

Kaul recommended that it should be set up “expediently" and be time-bound. He stressed the TRC should not be a criminal court and focus instead on dialogue. Kaul left the specifics of the formation to the government, saying, “It is my view that it is for the Government to devise the manner in which this should be set up, and to determine the best way forward for the commission". While the attorney general welcomed Kaul’s suggestion as a “watershed", senior political figures are yet to weigh in on the matter.

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