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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

5 - Truth Recovery in the Amnesty Process


It is often claimed that, in practical terms, the greatest achievement of the amnesty process lies in the contribution it makes to uncovering and understanding the atrocities of the past. In a typical observation of this sort, one South African commentator states that:

One of the most strikingly successful aspects of the amnesty system is that it has encouraged people to testify and resulted in the hearing of evidence which would otherwise never see the light of the day.

Yet, as shown in the previous chapter, the introduction of a requirement of full disclosure as a precondition for amnesty does not automatically result in ‘more and better truth’ through the amnesty process (and this is so whatever one's conception of truth may be). What sees the light of the day in amnesty hearings may well be an incomplete and unreliable account of past events, riddled with vagueness and uncertainty, and sometimes wilfully distorted. The ways in which such testimony can make a valuable contribution to the national record of past injustices therefore require careful reflection and analysis, as do the steps taken to ensure its reliability. Before it can be asserted that individual amnesty schemes such as the South African one are indeed able to play a key role in a truth commission's overall project of truth recovery, the Amnesty Committee's aims and practices must be investigated more fully in respect of their capacity to establish and record a reliable and defensible portion of an important truth.