Political backing is integral to the success of a truth commission. It is often presumed that national governments that have themselves established truth commissions (either by presidential decree or through legislation) will be supportive of them. This, however, has not always been the case. Where political will is absent, the work and impact of the commission is frequently compromised.
While government support for a commission’s work is essential, it is important that such support does not compromise the operational independence of the commission. Impartiality and independence is essential for public confidence and the legitimacy of the commission. Political authorities should not influence decision-making, research and investigations, or the writing of the report and recommendations; and should give clear signals that the commission is to operate independently (OHCHR, 2006). In general, national governments should provide the framework embodied in a commission’s mandate; provide resources and/or coordinate donations from the international community; and cooperate with the commission’s investigation by turning over documents and providing other relevant information. Aside from providing security, resources, and information, governments should ideally stay out of the way of a commission (expert comments).
The degree of governmental support and the level of independence of past truth commissions has varied to a large extent. Governments may create the commission and then do virtually nothing else. In some cases (e.g. Uganda and Guatemala), government agencies actively worked against the truth commission. While in other cases (e.g. South Africa), governments provide a great deal of support to help the truth commission perform its work.