International Commissions of Inquiry in a Networked World: Unveiling the Roles of Diasporas through an Eritrean Case Study

Larissa van den Herik*, Mirjam van Reisen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


International Commissions of Inquiry (COIs) have become important components of the human rights fact-finding, accountability and transitional justice architecture. The core task of COIs is to investigate international crises and construe what happened on the ground. The increasing tendency of states under scrutiny to refuse territorial access frustrates COI performance. It leaves COIs with no option but to operate from outside the state. COIs have developed various strategies to overcome the impediment of the uncooperative state, including the use of satellite imagery, conducting extraterritorial public hearings, interviewing individuals in the territory through Skype and other media as well as collecting accounts from individuals in the diaspora. This article focuses on the engagement of COIs with the diaspora. It presents diasporas as actors that may have considerable significance for COIs in a variety of ways, beyond sharing information. The article unveils the distinct roles that diasporic actors may entertain vis-a-vis international inquiries, as subjects in need of protection, information providers, and audience and mobilization forces. Looking at the COI for Eritrea, the article tests how these different roles play out in practice and how they interrelate. It thus sheds light on the capacity of COIs to make a difference extraterritorially for individuals in the diaspora, and on the capacity of diasporic actors to influence COI findings and shape follow up. The Eritrean COI experience illustrates that a purely instrumental approach towards diasporas - one which only regards diasporas as sources of information and which fails to protect extraterritorially or tap into the greater potential of diaspora mobilization - lessens COI effectivity for broader human rights and transitional justice purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-434
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Transitional Justice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Eritrea
  • diaspora
  • commissions of inquiry


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