Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (24 March) | 24 March 2020
‘A strong archival system is essential in any democracy’
“The right to know the truth depends on records on human rights violations being preserved through a strong archival system, essential in any democracy. Access to those archives is the key to combating impunity, to vetting officials, to discovering the truth and to providing reparation. Without properly kept and maintained archives a person’s right to know the truth about what happened to a victim is jeopardized.”
Such is the gist of a message from Ombudsman Nichole Tirant-Gherardi to mark the Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims being celebrated today, March 24.
The full text of Mrs Tirant-Gherardi’s message reads:
“The growing public interest in the work of the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) makes this year’s observance of the day dedicated to the right to know the truth about gross human rights violations take on a very special meaning and importance.
“The right to the truth emerged from a 2006 study carried out by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) which concluded that the inalienable and autonomous right is linked to the duty and obligation of the State to protect and guarantee human rights, to conduct effective investigations and to guarantee effective remedy and reparations in the face of human rights violations.
“The right to know the truth is often invoked in relation to gross human rights violations where the relatives of victims of summary executions, missing persons, enforced disappearances and torture, want to know what happened to their loved ones. The right, in such instances, implies knowing the full and complete truth as to the events that transpired, the specific circumstances in which the violations took place, as well as the reasons for them, and who participated in them.
“On December 21, 2010 the United Nations declared that each year on March 24 the world would observe the ‘Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.’ The date was chosen because on this day in 1980, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated, after denouncing human rights violations.
“In a 2009 report on the Right to the Truth, the UNHCR identified best practices to enable states to effectively implement this right by focusing on the role of archives and records concerning gross violations of human rights, as well as protection programmes of witnesses and other persons involved in trials connected with such violations.
“In Seychelles it is only since the inception of the TRNUC and the start of its deliberations in September 2019, that the victims and families of victims of human rights violations in the period following the 1977 coup d’état have been granted the opportunity to assert their rights and air their grievances as they seek the truth.
“The general public has followed the proceedings with keen interest and this year’s observance of this day will add greater value to the Commission’s work in helping victims of human rights violations of the Second Republic deal with that past. However, deliberations before the TRNUC have, in far too many instances, disclosed a chronic lack of hard evidence and paper trails where oral testimonies, sometimes weakened by the passage of time can neither be proven nor disproven because archives cannot be found or simply never existed.
“The right to know the truth depends on records on human rights violations being preserved through a strong archival system, essential in any democracy. Access to those archives is the key to combating impunity, to vetting officials, to discovering the truth and to providing reparation. Without properly kept and maintained archives a person’s right to know the truth about what happened to a victim is jeopardized.
“Examples abound of how the TRNUC’s work is assisted when public officials present files and records of past actions. But although these are commonplace in administrative and land-related complaints, they are visibly absent in those very cases where truth, justice, reparation and institutional reform is most meant to ensure that the violence never happens again.
“Through the investigative work on complaints brought to the Ombudsman, this Office shows why public authorities must document procedures and processes that will show how they acted, reacted, and decided on issues before them. Maintaining and preserving those archives, especially those concerning violations of human rights and humanitarian law, into the future, will enable any person at any time to access them in a bid to know the truth.
“As we pledge to uphold and respect the right to the truth today, my vision is that all our actions in public office are properly documented and preserved in a strengthened national archival system essential to our democracy. All public officers and authorities must adopt open, fair, accountable and transparent practices and processes designed to preserve the truth and protect the rights of all our citizens. This way we will guarantee victims of human rights violations the means to assert their rights and start the process of reconciliation with their past.”
Contributed by the Office of the Ombudsman