Old truths and new politics
This article analyzes the relationship between truth and politics by asking whether the â€˜publicnessâ€™ of a truth commission â€“ defined by whether it has public hearings, releases a public report, and names perpetrators â€“ contributes to democratization. The article reviews scholarship relevant to the potential democratizing effects of truth commissions and derives mechanisms that help explain this relationship. Work from the transitional justice field as well as democratization and political transition more generally is considered. Using a newly-constructed Truth Commission Publicness Dataset (TCPD), the analysis finds that even after statistically controlling for initial levels of democracy, democratic trends in the years prior to a commission, level of wealth, amnesties and/or trials, the influence of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and different cutoff points for measuring democratization across a number of models, more publicness predicts higher levels of democracy years after the commission has finished its work. The more public a truth commission is, the more it will contribute to democratization. The finding that more public truth commissions are associated with higher levels of democratization indicates particular strategies that policymakers, donors, and civil society activists may take to improve prospects for democracy in a country planning a truth commission in the wake of violence and/or government abuse.
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