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Breaking the silence: Time to strengthen UN role to end impunity – UN experts

International Day to End Impunity, Saturday 23 November

GENEVA (22 November 2013) – A group of United Nations independent human rights experts* today called on the UN to adopt a more central role in the fight against impunity, and urged Member States to give more support to and strengthen on-going efforts to secure accountability and justice for human rights violations, including serious crimes.

“Ending impunity requires greater scrutiny, prosecution and punishment, and no other international institution is better placed than the United Nations to effectively contribute to this goal,” they stressed. “It is time for the UN to take a more decisive role in combating impunity and focus on all dimensions of the problem, including the erosion of the rule of law and the violation of general principles of justice.”

Welcoming civil society’s initiative to commemorate 23 November as an annual International Day to End Impunity, the human rights experts recalled that the Heads of State and Government pledged to ensure that impunity for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law is not tolerated, and that such violations are properly investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned, as stated in the UN Declaration on the rule of law adopted on 24 September 2012.

The experts recalled that States are required to hold accountable those who fail to protect and prevent, as well as those who perpetrate, violations of human rights, including the rights of women and other groups at risk. “Fighting against impunity implies not only the obligation of States to investigate violations and take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators and the victims, but also to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations and take other necessary steps to prevent their recurrence”, they added.

“Efforts to address impunity must demand transparency and accountability of all State and non-State actors, including not only paramilitary forces, mercenaries, private military companies and terrorists, but also transnational corporations,” they said.

“The goal of ending impunity does not aim at revenge but at justice,” the independent experts underscored. “It requires objectivity and non-selectivity in identifying abuses that have not been redressed.”

“Addressing the challenge of impunity is not the one-way street of victor's justice and the punishment of the guilty among the vanquished,” they said. “The solution must be found in equal application of the law and the commitment to obtain an accounting by the powerful and the weak alike.”

The human rights experts noted that the fight against impunity requires Governments to ensure access to justice for all, to proactively make information available to all and to refrain from using national security, immunities or any other measures to cloak criminal behaviour.

“Universal access to diverse and reliable information, effective domestic justice systems, the globalization of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the practical realization of the right to truth are necessary conditions to do away with impunity,” they concluded.

(*) The experts: Mr. Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Mr. Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Anton Katz, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Najat Maalla M'jid, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Mr. Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ms. Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

Check the UN Declaration on the rule of law: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/67/L.1

For more information and media requests, please contact Pol Planas (+41 22 9179657 / pplanas@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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