Hayner, Priscilla B. “Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity.” New York: Routledge, 2001.

Unspeakable TruthsPriscilla B. Hayner introduces the book by asking, “Do you want to remember, or to forget?” [1] The purpose of truth commissions and reconciliations are to assist the state and citizens of how to deal with a difficult past but also to reconstruct a state in a transitory process from an oppressive regime or dictatorship to a democratic or semi-democratic institution. Hayner noted that Truth Commissions and Reconciliations have limits on what it can achieve in a short period. She noted three general points about theses commissions: expectations about Truth Commissions and Reconciliations are almost greater than what it can achieve, many commissions stumble on the same question and false assumptions, truth bodies can have significant long-term consequences that may be unexpected at the start, such as; justice and accountability.[2] Hayner interviews citizens about their responses of whether to remember or to forget. Some citizens argue the best way to move on is by knowing the truth to be able to forget and move on as a state. Although remembering is not easy, forgetting may prove to be impossible for some citizens. But others question how pursuing the truth would have an affect on justice?[3] While other citizens would argue the best way to move on is to bury the past. Hayner attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice, represent the experiences of victims, hopes of human rights advocates and dilemmas policymakers may come across.[4]

Questions that arise from Truth Commissions and Reconciliations are: What should be done with a recent history full of victims, perpetrators, secretly buried bodies, pervasive fear, and official denial? How can a nation of enemies be reunited? What should be done with hundreds…of perpetrators still walking free? And how can these atrocities be prevented from ever reoccurring in the future?[5] Hayner effectively recognizes the Truth Commissions’ attempt to answer these questions. Hayner provides substantial evidence of seven charts in the Appendix describing: twenty-one truth commissions in chronological order, “Historical Truth Commissions, Alternative Forms of Officials or Semiofficial Inquiry into the Past, Rights violations do truth commissions cover, and Past Truth Commission Recommendations, Reparations from Truth Commissions, comparison of resources and responsibilities. She describes in depth about five commissions, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, South Africa, and Guatemala, but also provides brief descriptions about twenty-one commissions in the Appendix.

Hayner analyzes dilemmas truth commissions may face and provides possible solutions these commissions may use in assisting the state and citizens to transform their history of past silence to public acknowledgment.

Tags: Truth Commission, Reconciliation, Political Persecution, Political Atrocities, Amnesty, Human Rights, Retributive Justice, Remembering, Forgetting, Forgiving.

***This is the cover image of the book.

[1] Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity. New York: Routledge, 2001. Page 1.

[2] Hayner, 8-9.

[3] Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity. New York: Routledge, 2001. Ash, Timothy Garton, ed. Preface. Xi-Xii.

[4] Hayner, 9.

[5] Hayner, 4.

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