Our Stories, Our Own Ways: Exploring Alternatives for Young People’s Engagement in Truth Commissions

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Abstract

In the aftermath of armed conflict, truth commissions are often established to gather an empirical record of the past. Historically, young people—children and youth—have had limited engagement in these processes, yet in recent years they have become active participants. However, limited research has explored the relevance, appropriateness, and impact of truth-telling methods applied with young people. Nor have young people been actively involved in determining such methods and processes to support their safe and meaningful engagement. In this article, we present the engagement process and findings of a participatory action research project conducted with 107 young people ages 11 to 23 years from northern Uganda to develop contextually appropriate methods and processes to engage young people in postconflict truth-telling. The findings presented strongly contrast with the dominant method of one-off individual statement taking used to engage young people in truth commissions. Rather, the methods and processes described by young people reflect the core values and principles of participatory action research and holistic psychosocial interventions. According to young people, postconflict truth-telling processes should (a) support safe and meaningful engagement, (b) balance participation and protection, (c) facilitate individual and collective healing, and (d) contribute to enhanced well-being and empowerment. There is an urgent call for further research and critical reflection to strengthen the evidence base to safely and meaningfully engage young people in truth commissions and as active citizens in postconflict healing and recovery.

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