As a child of international aid workers, Gabriel Twose, PhD, grew up amid conflict. As a baby, he lived through the 1983 coup in Burkina Faso. As a boy, he moved with his family to Nepal just as the Maoist revolution began. Growing up, Twose also took several trips to see his mother's family in Guyana, where conflict still simmers between people of Indian and African descent.
In 2007, he spent a summer with his parents in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, he learned about the truth commission that had been convened to help heal the scars left by apartheid.
Truth commissions are court-like bodies that hear testimony from both the perpetrators and the victims of violence. Unlike courts, however, these commissions rarely have the power to prosecute offenders. Their goal is simply to record the facts surrounding a crime and, in many cases, to make recommendations regarding accountability, reparations or reconciliation. Twose was fascinated by the idea, and he found that there had been little psychological research on these commissions.
A recent graduate of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., Twose has been working to fill that research gap ever since. In 2010, he spent nine months in Liberia, a country that set up its own truth commission in the wake of two bloody civil wars. He conducted dozens of interviews and hundreds of surveys with Liberians and found that most people saw major problems with the country's truth and reconciliation commission, for example, that it failed to uncover the full extent of the wartime abuses.
What's more, "the warlords who came to testify generally expressed little or no remorse," Twose says. He also found that people who had been exposed to the commission's proceedings — for example, by attending the hearings or reading about them in the newspaper — were less willing to refrain from revenge than those who hadn't been exposed. Twose hopes this work might help other nations avoid Liberia's mistakes and implement the model more effectively — for example, by ensuring that truth commissions make practical recommendations and that the government implements them, something that did not happen in Liberia, he found.