AS THE CONCEPT has evolved, a truth commission is tasked with investigating and revealing wrongdoing by a past government, or a succession of governments. Its formation, as in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Peru and El Salvador — the countries where truth commissions have been most successful — is driven by the scale of the misdeeds. Because of these offenses’ impact on society they have to be documented, their perpetrators identified, and if necessary prosecuted.
In Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and El Salvador, the mission of the truth commissions was to determine the extent, causes and cases of state-sponsored crimes committed against the citizenry so that they may never again be repeated. They were also meant to identify and recommend prosecution of the guilty, and compensation for the victims and survivors, or their kin.