Human Rights

Dr Tom Kerns













Citizens' Inquiries


A community-led Citizens’ Inquiry differs from a Citizens’ Tribunal in that it is less like a trial with judgments and verdicts, and more like a public fact-finding inquiry, or like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a Citizens’ Inquiry 3-5 independent commissioners, chosen for their expertise and moral standing, meet and sit for several days in a public venue to hear testimony, examine evidence, do research, deliberate and in time issue a final report that tells the community’s story from the point of view of those who have testified, usually members of the affected community. The Final Report draws conclusions and makes recommendations. Its purpose is to tell the truth that has not yet been adequately heard, and to do so in a public forum. It may choose to hear evidence and testimony only from the perspective of the affected community if the offending government or corporation has already had ample opportunity to tell its own story publicly.

The only example so far of such a Citizens’ Inquiry, aside from the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions held in some parts of Africa and South America, is the community-based People's Inquiry held in Auckland, New Zealand in February 2006 (on which I served as one of the four commissioners). Its purpose was to examine the government’s handling of an aerial spray program in which helicopters and fixed wing aircraft had, for two and a half years, regularly deployed liquid pesticides over several thousand acres of urban Auckland in an attempt to eradicate a Painted Apple Moth population.

Details about the arrangements, structure, venue, stated purposes and format of that Inquiry, as well as to download its Terms of Reference, Final Report, and the collection of much of the formal testimony on which the report was based, see the People's Inquiry website. Part III of that Final Report (which I authored) includes an analysis of the spray program from a human rights perspective.