Delegates attending an international conference that ended in Nairobi Saturday were grappling with whether a proposed truth and reconciliation commission for Kenya should be based on the one in South Africa, or be more punitive in nature.
Constitutional Court of South Africa Justice Albie Sachs spoke to delegates about the development and outcome of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was set up in 1995 by the South African government to come to terms with atrocities committed under the former apartheid regime.
A key feature of the process, he said, was to grant amnesty to those who committed crimes, such as torture and murder, if the perpetrators freely and fully acknowledged that they did these things.
"To my mind, this is really what truth commissions are about, real human beings confronting other real human beings, not in a punitive environment where somebody is trying to injure somebody else, but in a warm environment," he said. " Its not cold, like a court of law.
But not everyone agreed with that assessment. During the discussion following Mr. Sachs' speech, one delegate, who said he had been tortured by the former Kenyan government, asked whether it was right to let his torturers off, without any punishment.
The idea of Kenya forming its own truth and reconciliation commission took shape following the defeat of the former Kenya African National Union government in December 2002. KANU had been in power since Kenya achieved independence nearly 40 years ago.
In May, the National Rainbow Coalition government created a task force to ask Kenyans if they wanted, and would benefit from, a truth and reconciliation process that would address past wrongs committed under the KANU government. These include land-grabbing, nepotism, corruption, torture, and voter intimidation.
Task force chairman Makau Mutua says the message from Kenyans all over the country was that they wanted an effective truth commission, but were not so sure about blanket amnesties.
"They also want the truth commission to have powers to prosecute, perhaps to grant limited amnesties to individuals who confess fully," said Makau Mutua. "They want the commission to have powers to investigate in particular political assassinations, as well, and to recommend that those who are responsible be held to account."
Mr. Mutua says his group will submit its final report to the government by August 31. He says he expects the government to act on the report by the end of the year.