Belgium’s “truth commission” on its overseas colonial legacy. An expressivist analysis of transitional justice in consolidated democracies

Presentation by Tine Destrooper at the 21st Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology (EUROCRIM).


In the Summer of 2020, the Belgian Parliament established a Special Parliamentary Commission tasked with launching an enquiry into Belgium’s overseas colonial legacy and reflecting on appropriate reparations. It was the first consolidated democracy to establish a truth commission to investigate the historical and ongoing injustices related to overseas colonialism. In this paper, I argue in favour of treating this commission as a truth commission and focus on the extra-legal and expressivist functions of truth commissions to understand potential long-term and indirect effects of this initiative. I use primary sources to examine the genesis, mandate, composition, first steps and reception of the commission’s work. Through an expressivist analysis I examine whether the commission is furthering a thick kind of accountability or whether, instead, it risks cementing epistemic injustice. To do so, I juxtapose arguments about the potential for rhetorical entrapment with arguments about the risks of erasure and invisibilization. As such the paper provides both a rich overview of a commission that has been scantly covered in academic literature so far, as well as contributing to the debate about the meaning and potentially unforeseen effects of using transitional justice processes in general, and truth commissions in specific, in consolidated democracies.

Date & Time

September 8, 2021

10:30 - 11:45


Organized by European Society of Criminology