Exploration 4C: Non-judicial Options


Exploration 4A introduced students to the reasons for dealing with violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), and to different ways of doing so. Explorations 4B and 4C look more closely at specific mechanisms for addressing serious violations of IHL.

In Exploration 4B, students explored instances in which people accused of war crimes were brought to trial. Exploration 4C looks at some non-judicial ways of dealing with violations of IHL. Students are introduced to options such as reconciliation, forgiveness and reparation. They learn that bringing perpetrators of war crimes to trial is not the only way to address IHL violations and to leave the legacy of armed conflict behind.

This course is two 45-minute sessions.


  • To understand certain non-judicial approaches that States have chosen to deal with IHL violations
  • To consider the many perspectives involved – of victims and perpetrators and of the wider society – in efforts to build a peaceful future in teh aftermath of IHL violations and human rights abuses
  • To understand some of the advantages and limitations of non-judicial approaches

Key Ideas

  • There are various non-judicial ways to deal with IHL violations that may be used in addition to bringing alleged war criminals to trial.
  • Many different perspectives must be considered to help societies move beyond the atrocities in their past.
  • Truth commissions are useful instruments for uncovering the truth and for providing guidance on ways to deal with IHL violations.


Select the truth commission (from “Testimonies from truth commissions”) that you will use with your students for the ‘perspectives’ exercise in steps 3 and 4. Decide how to divide students into the five ‘perspective’ groups.

In the Methodology Guide, review teaching methods 1 (Discussion), 2 (Brainstorming), 5 (Role-playing), 7 (Writing and reflecting), 9 (Small groups) and 10 (Gathering stories and news).



Introduce the Focus on Non-judicial Ways | 15 minutes

At the end of Exploration 4B, students brainstormed about what else could be done to deal with violations of IHL apart from bringing alleged perpetrators to trial. Take up those ideas again and initiate a discussion.

Use those earlier suggestions that students made in order to introduce terms that people around the world have been using: ‘amnesty’, ‘apology’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘reparations’, ‘truth commission’, ‘truth and reconciliation commission.’ Ask students to reflect on the meaning of these six terms.

Distribute the worksheet “Addressing the needs of victims and of the community.”

Ask students to take notes on it as they brainstorm and discuss ideas for dealing with the aftermath of violence. As students offer suggestions, help them group their ideas under the appropriate categories on the worksheet.

Ask students to link the examples they give to their own experiences.

Possible question:

  • If a victim remains traumatized and continues to suffer long after a violent event, how might he or she be helped? [If needed, draw students' attention to some non-judicial options, such as the return of property, monetary compensation, public apology, psychological or medical services, creation of memorials, removal of officials from office or professionals from their jobs, community reconciliation events, revision of history books]

  • 2

    What are Truth Commissions? | 15 minutes

    Ask students what they know about truth commissions. Then distribute the worksheet “How do truth commissions work?”. Together, read the quotation it contains. Ask for reactions.

    Possible question:

  • What does this statement suggest about the way truth commissions work?
  • Instruct students, working in pairs, to write down their ideas about truth commissions on the worksheet.

    Reconvene the class. Introduce “A look at truth commissions,” and ask students to compare their ideas with the way truth commissions work in reality.


    Perspectives to Consider | 25 minutes

    Tell students that they will look at the work of one truth commission, drawing upon the facts of a particular case.

    Distribute copies of the section of “Testimonies from truth commissions” (Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Argentina or Peru) that you have decided to work on.

    Explain that the work of truth commissions involves the following perspectives:

  • Perpetrators present their stories to the truth commission, telling or explaining what crimes they committed during a situation of violence.
  • Victims present their stories to the truth commission, telling or explaining what happened to them during a situation of violence.
  • Witnesses present their stories to the truth commission, telling or explaining what they observed during a situation of violence.
  • Commissioners hear testimonies and make recommendations about what should be done.
  • Members of the public react to the information that becomes public and to the commission’s recommendations.
  • Divide the class into five groups, assigning one of the roles listed above to each.

    Instruct each group to discuss the testimony from the perspective they have been assigned and then prepare their responses to the following questions:

  • What thoughts and feelings do you think this testimony might evoke?
  • What outcomes do you hope for you?
  • Advise students to draw on their worksheets from steps 1 and 2, when they are preparing their responses to the second question.

    After about 10 minutes, have each group report its responses to the first question. List their responses by perspective, and display the list where it can be seen by everyone.

    Possible question:

  • What similarities and differences do you see in your responses?

  • 4

    Explore Possible Recommendations | 20 minutes

    Now have each group present its list of hoped-for outcomes, in response to the second question in step 3.

    Again, lead a discussion on the similarities and differences in the responses.

    Then have the class select two or three measures to promote healing and a peaceful future for the whole society.

    Conclude by asking students to respond in writing to the following question:

  • How did the perspective you took influence your interpretation of events and your choice of outcome?

  • 5

    The Value of Truth Commissions | 10 minutes

    Distribute “Voices on the advantages and limitations of truth commissions.” Have students work in pairs to discuss the value of truth commissions, using the quotations as well as their own ideas.

    Have each pair draw two columns on a sheet of paper and list the advantages and

    limitations of truth commissions.

    After a few minutes, reconvene the class and have students present their views.


    Closing | 5 minutes

    Stress that judicial and non-judicial ways of dealing with violations of IHL should complement each other.

    Possible Question:

  • How do you think the work done by courts and other ways of dealing with violations complement each other?
  • Point out that both judicial and non-judicial options play a part in dealing with the past and in preventing atrocities in the future.