Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Today, March 24, is the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. The UN General Assembly proclaimed this Day in 2010 in order to:
- Honour the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice;
- Pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all;
- Recognize, in particular, the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was assasinated on 24 March 1980, after denouncing violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations and defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.
On this day, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the States of the Americas to respect the right to the truth. According to IACHR President Rose-Marie Antoine, "The region’s democracies have inherited the responsibility of investigating human rights violations that occurred in times of dictatorships and authoritarian governments, and to punish those responsible, . . . The path to truth and justice for these types of crimes of the past has been extremely long and difficult, but it is an outstanding obligation and a responsibility the States cannot avoid. It is impossible to build a democratic future without first shedding light on the grave violations of the past and achieving justice and reparation.”
Investigations in the Americas to identify and punish those responsible for serious human violations of the past have been seriously flawed. For example, some States continue to apply the military criminal justice system. In addition there are still various types of amnesty laws in effect which ensure that many of these crimes go unpunished. Access to information about what transpired continues to be a major obstacle. The IACHR has called on States to make appropriate legal reforms.
According to the IACHR, the right to truth has two dimensions. The first is that victims and their family members have the right to know the truth and the identity of those who played a role in the violations, which means that States must investigate the facts, prosecute and punish those responsible, and guarantee access to the information available in State facilities and files. Secondly, society as a whole has the right to know the truth about past events, as well as the motives and circumstances in which the crimes were committed, in order to prevent recurrence of such acts in the future.
For more information, read the August 2014 IACHR Report on the Right to the Truth in the Americas or visit the UN website for the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.