Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions

September 28, 2005 // 4:00pm6:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Cold War International History Project
Africa Program

Speaker: Trudy Huskamp Peterson, archival consultant

Trudy Peterson, whose long career with the National Archives included service as Acting Archivist of the US, presented the report she prepared while a Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center 2003/2004. Final Acts is a guide to the questions of law, politics, physical preservation, and access that have arisen in connection with managing the records collected by the twenty truth commissions that have thus far completed their work. After examining and reporting on the abuses of deposed regimes—mainly in Central America, South America, and Africa—the truth commissions have left behind a wide variety of records—transcripts, video and audio recordings, email and computer files, and even artifacts. Peterson argued that this evidence must be saved and preserved in order to complete the commission's work; this is thus its final act. As repressive regimes attempt to impose a selective amnesia on society, saving the records makes sure that amnesia does not prevail.

Peterson praised the Wilson Center Press for having the vision to post the entire text on the Center website, so that persons in places where the cost of a hard copy would be prohibitive can have access to the book. She reported that she has already heard from individuals in East Timor involved with the work of the Truth Commission there who eagerly downloaded the text. As she surveyed the range of situations within which Truth Commissions have been established, she attempted to discern patterns that might help identify factors that contribute to transparency. She concluded that the most important factor predicting success was how secure the population feels that the old regime will not return, a condition she believes gives people the freedom openly to examine the past. She noted that preservation of the records is most likely when the commission is set up by Parliament, rather than by a new president or prime minister. Peterson sees the spread of Truth Commissions as connected to the end of the Cold War; since so many of the states that have established Truth Commissions were battlegrounds for surrogate Soviet/American conflict, it is difficult to imagine that the commissions could have been created while the Cold War continued.

Kathryn Weathersby, Senior Associate, History and Public Policy Program

Event Speakers List: 
    Back to top

    Upcoming Events

    Experts & Staff

    • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
    • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
    • Charles Kraus // Program Associate
    • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
    • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project

    Wilson Center Photo Gallery

    Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

    To Attend an Event

    Unless otherwise noted:

    Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

    To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.