UN officials underline the right to truth for victims of gross human rights abuses

24 March 2011

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underscored the right of the victims of gross human rights abuses and their families to know the truth about the circumstances surrounding the violations, the reasons they were perpetrated and the identity of the people responsible.

“Knowing the truth offers individual victims and their relatives a way to gain closure, restore their dignity and experience at least some remedy for their losses,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the first International Day for the Right to the Truth of Victims of Gross Human Rights Violations.

“Exposing the truth also helps entire societies to foster accountability for violations. And since the process of determining the truth often involves fact-finding inquiries and public testimony by victims and perpetrators, it can provide catharsis and help produce a shared history of events that facilitates healing and reconciliation,” he added.

Mr. Ban noted that the Right to the Truth is now provided for in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which entered into force in December last year.

The date was chosen to commemorate the day El Salvadorian human rights defender, Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, was shot dead in 1980 while celebrating mass in a chapel. He had been outspoken in his condemnation of abuses against the most vulnerable people in his country.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her message said 42,633 people have disappeared and remain unaccounted for over the past 31 years since the murder of Monsignor Romero.

“Victims of gross violations of human rights and their families have the inalienable right to know the truth about past events concerning the perpetration of heinous crimes against them,” said Ms. Pillay.

“They have the right to know about the circumstances and reasons that led, through massive or systematic violations, to the perpetration of those crimes. They have the right to know who the perpetrators are, and the fate and whereabouts of the victims,” she said.

She urged States to take all appropriate measures to give effect to the right to the truth, the right to justice and the right to reparations.

“These three indispensable rights are at the core of the fight against impunity and the restoration of the dignity of victims,” added Ms. Pillay.

She said the truth must be brought to right through public, independent and impartial inquiries into gross violations such as torture, rape, sexual slavery, disappearances and killings.

“In recent years, my office has supported a number of fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry into reports of gross violations in a number of countries, including the one on Libya, which was created by the [UN] Human Rights Council last month,” said Ms. Pillay.


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