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“Transitional justice, a powerful catalyst to strengthen the rule of law” – UN expert

NEW YORK (2 November 2012) – In the aftermath of massive violations, States should use transitional justice measures as catalysts to strengthen the rule of law, based on firm human rights foundations, UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff said on Friday.

“As we have seen in the past, a mere formal understanding of the rule of law does not offer effective guarantees against gross human rights violations. Apartheid South Africa and Pinochet Chile have taught us painful lessons in that regard. In these cases, legal processes were used to consolidate abusive power,” Mr. de Greiff, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, told the UN General Assembly today.

Presenting his report to the General Assembly, he commended Member States for having recently adopted a Declaration expressing commitment to a conception of the rule of law that goes well beyond legal formalism and includes the protection of human rights.

In his report, the human rights expert explains how various transitional justice measures, notably truth-seeking initiatives, criminal prosecutions, reparations for the victims and institutional reform can importantly contribute to the rule of law at the domestic level.

“By way of example, Truth Commissions provide space for the population, particularly victims, who were formerly excluded from any protective measure, to make their voice heard. Truth Commissions have the potential to provide comprehensive accounts of failures and shortcomings of institutions meant to be based on the rule of law and make sweeping recommendations for their reform,” Mr. de Greiff states in the report.

The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the abiding gap between declarations and reports on the one hand, and implementation of commitments and declarations on the other, leaves no room for complacency. Strengthening the rule of law, offering effective guarantees to all peoples requires not just agreement in paper, but the willingness to implement measures that leave no doubt that the violation of rights leads to effective measures of redress and prevention, including truth-seeking, criminal prosecutions, reparations for victims, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

The independent expert also underscores in the report that transitional justice measures in themselves must be conceived and implemented based on the rule of law if ever they are to provide a legitimate and trustworthy ground for a society to move ahead. “The ends of political transitions, no matter how noble, cannot justify the adoption of merely any means,” he stressed.

The Special Rapporteur called on States to put into practice their expressions of commitment to the idea that redressing the legacies of violations is important for the rule of law, and for security and development.

“States should resist the tendency to think of rule of law reform as a wholly prospective exercise, that does not call for redressing past violations. There is no country that can claim to respect the rule of law if the violation of its most fundamental norms remains unaddressed,” he said. “The strength of the rule of law in the present, and its prospects for the future, lies in ensuring that the legacies of past abuses are not ignored.”

A human rights expert from Colombia, Pablo de Greiff has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues, including on the four measures under this mandate (justice, truth, reparations, and guarantees on non-recurrence). He has worked with different transitional justice bodies across the world and has provided advice to a number of Governments and multilateral institutions on international policy, transitional justice, and on the linkages between justice, security and development. He has also collaborated with numerous NGOs working with victims in many countries.

Mr. de Greiff has published widely on the issues pertaining to his mandate and lectured in prominent universities. He has been the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice since 2001. The UN Human Rights Council established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in September 2011. Mr. Pablo de Greiff was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the mandate’s first Special Rapporteur in March 2012, for a period of three years. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full report: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N12/508/01/PDF/N1250801.pdf?OpenElement

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